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Ukraine intercepts missiles as Russia steps up strikes on Kyiv

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian air defenses intercepted 18 attempted Russian strikes on Kyiv early Tuesday including six hypersonic missiles, military and city authorities said, largely foiling one of Moscow’s fiercest attacks so far.

Residents of the Ukrainian capital were jolted awake about 3 a.m. by cascading booms that shook windows, set off car alarms and delivered a new dose of terror in a city mostly spared from direct damage and destruction in recent months.

Falling missile debris injured at least three people in Kyiv and caused damage to the city’s zoo and central neighborhoods, city officials said.

The strikes, which could be heard for over 20 minutes in the capital, were among the most intense in months. The assault “was exceptional in its density — the maximum number of missile attacks in the shortest period of time,” Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv’s city military administration, wrote on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials said the barrage offered the latest evidence that Ukraine desperately needs stronger aviation capabilities and more powerful, longer-range weapons.

Ukrainian officials claimed a perfect interception rate, and credited Western-donated Patriot air defense systems with thwarting attacks by the most sophisticated Russian weapons, including the hypersonic Kinzhal, or Dagger, which travels at more than five times the speed of sound. Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force, said Russia expended millions of dollars in high-end missiles in a failed attempt to hit targets in the Kyiv region.

“The enemy is attempting to achieve its goals,” Ihnat said. “Right now it had the goal of striking certain installations in the region of the capital. These could be next to the city, or in the city — we can’t know what the enemy had in mind, because we destroyed everything.”

Ihnat said the Russians fired from numerous locations. “They attacked with missiles from various bases: air, ground, sea,” he said. Russia also attacked the capital overnight with drones, Ihnat and other officials said.

Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said Russia appeared to have launched a “sophisticated, complex attack in terms of multiple trajectories, multiple missiles.”

The idea is you have ballistics come in one direction, cruise missiles come in another one, drones another one,” Karako said.

Karako supported the assessment that Russia was aiming at high-value targets and not just trying to create a distraction. “If you’re firing a Kinzhal, you’re not firing for effect,” he said.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters Tuesday, without evidence, that a Kinzhal missile had hit a Patriot missile defense system, which contradicted Ukrainian accounts.

The drone attacks, in particular, seem be part of an ongoing effort by Moscow to test Ukraine’s newly supplied Western air defense systems, perhaps searching for vulnerabilities or aiming to deplete Kyiv’s missile stocks ahead of more intense ground fighting that is expected in the coming weeks.

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Kelly Grieco, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, said that while the West has been able to address a shortage in missiles in Ukraine’s aging Russian-made air defenses by sending its own systems, Western air defense systems also have supply limitations.

“There are simply not many systems and missiles on hand to send to Ukraine, and the defense industry cannot surge fast enough to meet demand,” Grieco said, noting that only two Patriot systems have been supplied to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, wrote Tuesday on Telegram that the drones included both Iranian-made Shahed attack drones and Orlan-10 reconnaissance drones.

“All are destroyed!” Zaluzhny wrote.

Ukraine also intercepted nine Kalibr cruise missiles launched from ships in the Black Sea and three Iskander land-based missiles, the military said. Roughly an hour after air alarms sounded for the first round of attacks, they blared again as Ukraine reported a second round, this time involving unmanned aerial objects.

Debris from the missiles landed in the central Solomyansky district, injuring three and setting a nonresidential building and several cars on fire.

Kyiv Zoo was also struck by falling debris, though no animals were reported hurt. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko wrote on Telegram that a fragment of one rocket hit a tree but that the branches were now being cleared, and the zoo opened as usual at 10 a.m.

Since Russia resumed near-daily strikes on the capital in late April, Ukraine’s reinforced air defenses, including the Patriot systems, have spared Kyiv from damage.

Strikes in Russian-held Luhansk showcase Ukraine’s longer-range missiles

This success has created a sense of safety, which may be illusory. On Monday evening, few people in the city’s packed bars and restaurants reacted when an air raid alarm sounded about 8 p.m. That alarm ended swiftly, with no reports of an attempted strike.

Earlier this month, Ukraine said it used the Patriot system to shoot down a Russian Kinzhal missile over Kyiv — showing that it could take down one of Russia’s most feared, but also most expensive, weapons.

During a recent interview with The Washington Post, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia has stopped trying to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure and is now trying to eliminate its air defense systems. In the interview, Reznikov reiterated Ukraine’s urgent need for more firepower.

“We need 40 Patriots, 40 IRIS-T, 40 NASAMS,” Reznikov said, referring to the U.S.-made system and two other surface-to-air missile systems.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, posting on Twitter on Tuesday, criticized Western officials who have claimed that Kyiv “does not need aviation and long-range missiles” — saying this makes it easier for Moscow to “create a nightmare” for Ukraine.

Podolyak did not name anyone specific, but President Biden personally rebuffed a request for American-made F-16 fighter jets, saying that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not need them.

Podolyak, in a text message to The Post, said that his words were directed at “those partners who still believe” that transferring such weapons “will lead to escalation.” On the contrary, he said, not providing the weapons “leads to an aggravation of the conflict and an increase in deaths.”

“Let’s be honest,” Podolyak said. “Every time Russia demonstratively attacks Ukrainian cities, it sends certain messages to our partners.”

He added: “These are ballistic and cruise missiles, attack and reconnaissance drones aimed at peaceful cities of Ukraine and its residents, who at 3 a.m. do not expect a threat.”

One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.

A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.

Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.

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