KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian air defenses downed 32 of 35 Shahed exploding drones launched by Russia early Tuesday, most of them in the Kyiv region, officials said, in a bombardment that exposed gaps in the country’s air protection after almost 16 months of war.
Russian forces mostly targeted the region around the Ukrainian capital in a nighttime drone attack lasting around three hours, officials said, but Ukrainian air defenses in the area shot down about two dozen of them.
The attack was part of a wider bombardment of Ukrainian regions that extended as far as the Lviv region in the west of the country, near Poland.
The Shahed drones made it all the way to Lviv because of the inability of air defense assets to cover such a broad area, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said.
Air defense systems are mostly dedicated to protecting major cities, key infrastructure facilities, including nuclear power plants, and the front line, he said.
“There is a general lack of air defense assets to cover a country like Ukraine with a dome like Israel has,” he said, in a reference to Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system.
In the Lviv region, the Russian strike hit a critical infrastructure facility, starting a fire, according to Lviv Gov. Maksym Kozytskyi.
Russia also struck the southern Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine with ballistic missiles.
Ukraine’s air defenses have been reinforced with sophisticated weapons from its Western allies, allowing it a higher success rate recently against incoming drones and missiles.
Previously, a winter bombardment by Russia damaged Ukraine’s power supply, though speedy repairs blunted that Kremlin effort.
The latest aerial assaults behind Ukraine’s front line coincided with the early stages of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, as it aims to dislodge the Kremlin’s forces from territory occupied since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
The counteroffensive has come up against heavily mined terrain and reinforced defensive fortifications, according to Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces.
Russia has also mustered a large number of reserves, he said in a post accompanying a video of him visiting front-line positions with other senior officers.
Heavy battles are taking place in eastern Ukraine, around Bakhmut, Lyman, Avdiivka and Marinka, the Ukrainian armed forces said. Russia shelled 15 cities and villages in the eastern Donetsk region, wounding five civilians, including three in Chasiv Yar near Bakhmut, according to Ukraine’s presidential office.
“Despite the fierce resistance of the occupiers, our soldiers are doing everything possible to liberate Ukrainian territory. The operation continues as planned,” Zaluzhnyi’s post said.
In other developments, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, known by its acronym SVR, invited Ukrainian diplomats stationed abroad to come to Russia with their families to avoid returning to Ukraine. It claimed many Ukrainian diplomats are unwilling to return home after their tours and want refugee status in the European Union and Asian countries where they worked.
Also, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu alleged that Ukraine plans to use U.S.-made HIMARS and U.K.-provided Storm Shadow missiles to attack Russian territory, including the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula. He warned that using those missiles on targets outside the current war zone would “trigger immediate strikes on the decision-making centers on the territory of Ukraine.” He didn’t elaborate.