Russia launched the largest drone attack it has ever directed at the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, before dawn on Saturday, sending wave after wave of drones packed with explosives toward a city that is home to more than three million people.
The Ukrainian Air Force said that the attack featured “a record number” of one-way attack drones. At least five people were injured in Saturday’s attack, city officials said, and dozens of homes damaged or destroyed.
Searchlights swept the predawn skies as air defense teams hunted for the drones approaching the city from all directions. The first alarms sounded shortly after 2:30 a.m., and the rattle of antiaircraft guns and powerful explosions echoed for hours, the noisiest night that Kyiv has endured in months. The distant glow of fires was visible from the city center.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called the bombardment “deliberate terror.” “The Russian leadership is proud of its ability to kill,” he said, noting that the attack came on the day that Ukrainians pay tribute to the millions killed in the Holodomor, a famine orchestrated by Stalin.
At 7:15 a.m., the Ukrainian Air Force warned that another wave of drones was approaching. With the sun up, they could be seen flying through the sky and exploding in a burst of orange.
An “all clear” signal was issued shortly before 9 a.m., more than six hours after the first alarm sounded.
The Ukrainian Air Force said it had shot down or disabled 71 out of an estimated 75 drones, most of which were targeting the capital. The war’s previously largest drone assault directed at the capital, which took place in May, involved about half as many drones.
A single missile was shot down over the Dnipro region, the air force said.
Russia has been increasing the number of drone strikes across Ukraine in recent weeks as it probes Ukrainian air defense systems, and Ukrainian officials have warned that Moscow was testing a variety of new methods to evade detection.
“The enemy uses electronic warfare, jammers, to mislead air defense and make us respond to targets that do not actually exist,” Yuri Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, said this month.
Russia is also using methods such as unarmed drones that do not pose a serious threat but still need to be shot down.
The most commonly used drones in long-range attacks on targets across Ukraine are the Iranian-made Shaheds, which are designed to dive into their targets and detonate on contact. They can travel a distance of more than 600 miles and carry payloads of 80 to 120 pounds, according to Ukrainian intelligence.
Russia has been working to modify and upgrade the Iranian-made drones, according to Western and Ukrainian officials. Moscow is also increasing its domestic production of drones based on the Iranian design, aiming to be able to produce 6,000 by the summer of 2025, according to Western officials.
Ukrainian officials have been bracing for an increase in Russian attacks on infrastructure this winter as they expect the Kremlin to again try to plunge the nation into cold and darkness, deepening the humanitarian crisis.
The attack Saturday appeared to mainly feature drones, Ukrainian officials said. But they cautioned that Russia has previously used a combination of drones and missiles in complex assaults aimed at evading and overwhelming air defenses.
Ukrainian intelligence officials say that the Kremlin has probably stockpiled more than 900 long-range ballistic and cruise missiles over the past few months.
“The Ukrainian sky shield is already more powerful compared to last year,” Mr. Zelensky said. But it “does not yet fully protect the entire territory.”