Russia launches huge drone attacks on Ukraine ahead of Victory Day holiday
Russia launched its biggest swarm of drone attacks on Ukraine on Monday as it also prepared for annual commemorations marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, said Russia fired 60 Iranian-made kamikaze drones at Ukrainian targets, including 36 at the capital. All those fired at Kyiv had been shot down he said, although debris hit apartments and other buildings, injuring at least five people.
“This was the most massive drone attack on the capital during the entire war,” Mr Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion, said.
The assault is part of a renewed Russian air campaign unleashed 10 days ago after a lull since early March.
A food warehouse was also set ablaze by a missile in the Black Sea city of Odesa, where officials reported three people were injured.
Kyiv said Moscow was also making a final push to try to capture the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut to deliver Vladimir Putin what would be his only prize for a costly Russian winter offensive, in time for Victory Day.
Moscow is preparing for Tuesday’s Victory Day parade, the most important day in the calendar for Russia under Mr Putin, who evokes the 1945 Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany in trying to rally Russians behind his invasion of Ukraine.
But in a break with Russia, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky marked Victory Day on Monday rather than Tuesday, announcing that decree a change in the date of the holiday to match the practice of Western allies.
“Recalling the heroism of millions of Ukrainians in that war against Nazism, we see the same heroism in the actions of our soldiers today,” said Mr Zelenskiy, who addressed the nation from a hilltop overlooking Kyiv.
“Just as evil rushed into our towns and villages then, so it does now. As it killed our people then, so it does now,” he said. “And all the old evil that modern Russia is bringing back will be defeated, just as Nazism was defeated.”
The German army’s surrender in 1945 took effect late at night on 8 May in Berlin, when it was already 9 May in Moscow, the date that became the Soviet holiday.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that by changing the date, Mr Zelensky had betrayed the memory of Ukrainians who fought the Nazis. “What is worse than an enemy? A traitor. That is Zelensky, the embodiment of Judas in the 21st century,” she said.
Ukraine, as part of the then-Soviet Union, suffered higher per capita casualties than Russia in the Second World War and was one of the heartlands of European Jewry wiped out in the holocaust.
Russia has enacted a major security clampdown ahead of Tuesday’s commemorations. At least 21 Russian cities have cancelled traditional military parades for the first time in years.
Regional officials blamed unspecified “security concerns” or vaguely referred to “the current situation” for the restrictions and cancellations.
Ukraine, which last year drove Russian forces back from the ramparts of the capital and recovered substantial territory, has maintained a defensive posture for the past six months, but says its counteroffensive will begin soon.
Ground forces commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Sunday that Kyiv intended to prevent Russia declaring victory in Bakhmut by Tuesday.
The block-by-block Russian advance there is led by Wagner, a private army that recruited thousands of convicts from prison.
In Kyiv, explosions could be heard through the night. Three were injured in blasts in the Solomyanskyi district and two when drone wreckage fell in the Sviatoshyn district, Mr Klitschko said.