The Russian military flew a dozen self-destructing, Iranian-supplied drones at a town near Kyiv overnight on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the first time such weapons have been used against a target near the Ukrainian capital, which lies hundreds of miles from the front lines.
The flurry of drone strikes highlighted Russia’s growing reliance on so-called kamikaze drones supplied by Iran, which blow up on impact, according to Ukrainian officials.
At least six drones detonated in Bila Tserkva, a town about 50 miles south of Kyiv, Oleksiy Kuleba, head of the regional military administration, said in a post on Telegram. The Ukrainian military said it shot down six others in flight in southern Ukraine.
The Iranian drones first turned up in Ukraine in August in attacks on armored vehicles and artillery in the country’s northeast. In recent weeks, they have emerged as a growing menace on the battlefield, after Tehran began supplying Moscow with the first batch of what is expected to be an order of hundreds of military drones.
Their use in Ukraine marks the first time the weapons have been deployed outside the Middle East, and comes as Moscow finds its arsenal of drones increasingly depleted, with few nations willing to supply it with weapons.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry denied its drones were deployed in Ukraine. But U.S. and Iranian officials said in August that Iran had delivered to Russia the first batch of its drones, as part of a larger order totaling hundreds of the weapons.
The strikes on Bila Tserkva hit infrastructure, Mr. Kuleba said, without elaborating.
Russia has been targeting electrical power stations, electricity transmission lines, waterworks and other critical infrastructure with long-range weaponry in September as Ukrainian forces routed its soldiers along the front, in what military analysts have suggested is an effort to cripple the economy or undermine support for the war inside Ukraine.
The Iranian Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drone is a delta-wing aircraft launched from the back of a flatbed truck that carries a warhead of about 80 pounds. It drops out of the sky without warning and is accurate enough to hit a howitzer or a vehicle parked in the open. Russians have used the drones to obliterate artillery pieces and armored vehicles and to kill and injure soldiers, Ukrainian military officials said.
In Wednesday’s attack, Russia launched a swarm of 12 drones from territory it controls in southern Ukraine, Yurii Ihnat, the spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force, said in an interview on Ukrainian television. Anti-aircraft units shot down three, Ukrainian jet pilots intercepted another three but the rest got through air defenses, he said.
The United States has supplied Ukraine with Switchblade drones, which are also known as “kamikaze” drones because they are self-destroying. Kyiv has also deployed Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, capable of firing guided missiles.
Military analysts have suggested Russia may running low on long-range missiles after seven months of war and thousands of strikes. President Volodymyr Zelensky said in August that Russia had fired about 3,500 cruise missiles at Ukraine by that point.