Russia launches biggest drone swarm in months against Ukraine

Attack was the biggest yet in a renewed air campaign unleashed 10 days ago

A residential building damaged by a Russian drone in Kyiv. AFP
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Russia attacked Ukraine on Monday, the eve of the May 9 holiday celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany, with its biggest swarm of drones for months.

Kyiv's mayor said Russia had fired 60 Iranian-made kamikaze drones at Ukrainian targets, including 36 at the capital, all of which had been shot down.

Debris hit apartments and other buildings, injuring at least five in the city.

A food warehouse was set ablaze by a missile in the Black Sea city of Odesa, where officials reported three injured.

It was the biggest drone swarm yet in a renewed Russian air campaign unleashed 10 days ago after a lull since early March.

Kyiv said Moscow was also making a final push to try to capture the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut to deliver President Vladimir Putin what would be his only prize for a costly Russian winter offensive, in time for Victory Day, as the 1945 Soviet defeat of the Nazis is known.

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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.

In a new break with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy marked Victory Day on Monday rather than Tuesday, announcing a change in the date of the holiday to match the practice of the country's 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 Zelenskyy, 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 May 8 in Berlin, when it was already May 9 in Moscow, the date that became the Soviet holiday.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that by changing the date, Mr Zelenskyy had betrayed the memory of Ukrainians who fought the Nazis.

“What is worse than an enemy? A traitor. That is Zelenskyy, the embodiment of Judas in the 21st century,” she said.

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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.

On the day of Russia's parade, Mr Zelenskyy will underscore Ukraine's ambition to join the West by receiving European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose visit to the war zone the EU took the unusual step of announcing in advance.

Brussels marks May 9 as “Europe Day”, honouring a French declaration in 1950 that led to the founding of the body that became the EU.

Russia has cancelled or curtailed some of the huge military parades that normally accompany Victory Day.

Western countries say this is in part out of security concerns, in part for fear of publicising Russia's heavy casualties in Ukraine, and in part because Moscow has lost so much military hardware in its largely fruitless, grinding winter offensive.

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.

Updated: May 09, 2023, 5:09 AM