KYIV — For the second Monday in a row, central Kyiv awoke to the sound of explosions caused by a Russian attack.
Five blasts interspersed with Ukrainian defenders’ frantic small arms fire echoed through this downtown district early in the morning on Oct. 17. A week ago, Russia struck the same location with a missile, targeting a thermal plant in the area.
The latest attack destroyed and started a fire in a residential building; it also damaged an office and apartment tower next to it. While 18 people were rescued, at least four others, including a young, expectant couple, were found dead under the rubble.
“Among the victims was a young couple, a husband and wife,” said Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko. “The woman was six months pregnant. Russia is a terrorist country!”
Another victim of the strike was an elderly woman, the mother of a man who is “currently defending our country,” according to Svitlana Bedreha, an official with the State Emergency Service.
Faced with withering losses in the battlefields in eastern and southern Ukraine, Russia has ramped up its attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure, trying to knock out utilities for the winter and sow terror among the Ukrainian populace.
On Oct. 10, Russia attacked Ukraine with 84 missiles and 24 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones, 56 of which were destroyed.
On Oct. 17, it attacked with 43 drones across Ukraine, 37 of which were shot down, according to Yuriy Ihnat, spokesman of Ukraine’s Air Force Command.
Russia used a swarm of 28 to attack Kyiv. All but five of them were brought down by Ukraine’s air defenses, according to the mayor, who was at the scene of the attack.
“They are terrorizing the whole city,” Klitschko told journalists as firefighters and rescuers labored in the background. One of the rescue workers pulled an injured cat out of the wreckage, its fur matted with soot. The cat meowed hoarsely as it was bandaged and wrapped in thermal insulating foil.
“The target is to destroy all of Ukraine’s infrastructure, to leave people freezing, without electricity,” Klitschko said. “I repeat once again, this is not a war against the military, it is a war for the destruction of Ukrainians. They need a humanitarian disaster.”
“And I appeal once again to our partners: to provide modern air defense.”
Iran has been supplying drones to Russia, according to Ukraine and the West. President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia could have ordered as many as 2,400 Shahed-136 drones from Iran, while hundreds have already been supplied, according to Ihnat.
Now Tehran appears to have strengthened its commitment to helping Russia, according to a recent Washington Post report citing unnamed U.S. and allied security officials. The officials said that Iran also plans to transfer surface-to-surface missiles as well.
Targeting thermal plant
Tamara Beruashvili was next door to the residential building that was hit, on the eighth floor of a business and residential tower. The air raid siren woke her up, but by the time she prepared to head for shelter, the drone rammed her neighbor’s building. Its force felt like just a third of that of last week’s missile, she said.
“I heard the whistling sound, at first I thought it was a rocket,” Beruashvili said. “In five seconds, there was the first explosion. I saw the orange splash.”
She heard a total of five explosions within the next hour. The area filled with smoke and Beruashvili, afraid of being poisoned, made her escape.
“I had a feeling that if they hit this place once, they targeted it (deliberately) and I realized that they will not be satisfied until they destroy the thermal unit,” she said. “The Russians don’t fight the army, they kill civilians.”
An hour after the attack, smoke also appeared to be billowing from a building belonging to a utility company, across the street from the destroyed residential building. The smoke was quickly contained. This building is directly in front of the thermal plant Russia was likely trying to target. However, its windows appeared intact.
“As a result of the terrorist attack, energy infrastructure facilities in the central and northern regions of Ukraine were damaged,” Ukrenergo said in a statement. “The situation with the power system is under control. However, the dispatch center does not rule out the possibility of emergency shutdown schedules.”
Crying out for air defense
The first explosions hit shortly before 7 a.m. and continued throughout the next hour. Most people who work in this area hadn’t gotten to work yet. But there were a few who had. Larisa Shevel, the employee of a meat store down the road, saw the drones coming.
“At first there were two, there were just drones buzzing, then there were two explosions,” she said. “First, a flurry of gunshots and then suddenly an explosion… One flew past but suddenly changed its trajectory and fell on the house.”
Ilya Yushaev, who works in a nearby shawarma stand, also saw the drone change direction.
“I came out and saw it flying then suddenly turning toward me,” he said. “That was terrifying.” He took cover behind a row of food stands as the safety of the closest shelter, the central train station, was too far away.
Some local workers were harried.
“How do you think I feel, with this happening two weeks in a row?” said Oksana Shovkova, a cashier at a small nearby deli, who was at work when the drones hit. “We need money, so we have to work but it can hit here too at any time.”
After last week’s attack, Western allies have started transferring air defenses to Ukraine. But to the people under fire, they cannot come fast enough.
“They want the Ukrainians as a nation to cease to exist,” said Beruashvili. “They are just terrorizing us. We need anti-missile systems, air defense systems, and more sanctions against Russia and Iran that work.”