KYIV: Waves of explosives-laden suicide drones struck Ukraine's capital on Monday, setting buildings ablaze and tearing a hole in one of them while sending people scurrying for shelter or trying to shoot down the kamikazes.
The concentrated use of the drones was the second barrage in as many weeks after months where air attacks had become become a rarity in central Kyiv.
The assault sowed terror and frayed nerves as blasts echoed across the city. Energy facilities were struck, and one drone slammed into a residential building, killing four people, authorities said.
The drones appeared to include Iranian-made Shaheds. Intense, sustained bursts of gunfire rang out as they buzzed overhead, apparently from soldiers trying to destroy them.
Others headed for shelter, nervously scanning the skies. But Ukraine has become grimly accustomed to attacks nearly eight months into the Russian invasion, and city life resumed as rescuers picked through the debris.
Previous Russian airstrikes on Kyiv were mostly with missiles. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Monday's barrage came in successive waves of 28 drones in what many fear could become a more common mode of attack as Russia seeks to avoid depleting its stockpiles of long-range precision missiles.
Five drones plunged into Kyiv itself, said Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. In the Kyiv region, at least 13 were shot down, all of them flying in from the south, said Yurii Ihnat, a spokesman for Ukraine's air force.
One strike appeared to target the city's heating network, hitting an operations centre.
Another slammed into a four-story residential building, ripping a large hole in it and collapsing at least three apartments on top of each other. Four bodies were recovered, including those of a woman who was six months pregnant and her husband, Klitschko said. An older woman and another man also were killed there.
An Associated Press photographer caught one of the drones on camera, its triangle-shaped wing and pointed warhead clearly visible against the blue sky.
The whole night, and the whole morning, the enemy terrorises the civilian population," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a social media post. Kamikaze drones and missiles are attacking all of Ukraine.
The enemy can attack our cities, but it won't be able to break us," he wrote.
Andrii Yermak, head of the presidential office, posted on social media that Shahed drones were among those used.
Zelenskyy, citing Ukrainian intelligence services, has previously alleged Russia has ordered 2,400 of the Shahed drones from Iran.
Russia has rebranded them as Geran-2 drones meaning geranium in Russian. A photo of debris from one of Monday's strikes, posted by Klitschko, showed the word Geran-2 marked on a mangled tail fin.
Iran has previously denied providing Russia with weapons, although its Revolutionary Guard chief has boasted about providing arms to the world's top powers, without elaborating.
The drones pack an explosive charge and can linger over targets before nosediving into them. Their blasts jolted people awake early on Monday.
They included Snizhana Kutrakova, 42, who lives close to where one of the drones came down.
I'm full of rage, she said. Full of rage and hate.
The Russian military said it used long-range air- and sea-based high-precision weapons to fire at Ukrainian military and energy facilities. The strikes hit all assigned targets , Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Iranian-made drones have been used elsewhere in Ukraine in recent weeks against urban centres and infrastructure, including power stations.
They are comparatively cheap, costing in the region of USD 20,000. Their use in swarms presents a challenge to Ukrainian air defences, said Ihnat, the air force spokesman.
Western nations have promised to bolster Ukrainian air defences with systems that can shoot down drones but much of that weaponry has yet to arrive and, in some cases, may be months away.
The challenges are serious because the air defense forces and means are the same as they were at the beginning of the war," Ihnat said.
Some air defence weaponry supplied by the West can only be used during daylight hours when targets are visible, he added.
Russia forces also struck energy infrastructure elsewhere on Monday, apparently seeking to compound pressure on Kyiv's government after previous attacks that knocked out power supplies.
Shmyhal, the prime minister, said hundreds of settlements were without power after missile attacks on critical infrastructure in the Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.
Ukraine's nuclear operator said Russian shelling also cut off power again to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, one of the most worrying flashpoints of the Russian invasion.
The nuclear plant, Europe's largest, needs power for critical safety systems. When shelling severs its power supply lines, the plant is forced to fall back on diesel generators a temporary stopgap.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had said on Friday that there was no need for more widespread attacks against Ukraine after a barrage of strikes earlier in the week that he said were in retaliation for the bombing of a bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula with the Russian mainland.
However, Putin also said that seven of 29 targets designated after the bridge attack were not hit the way the Defence Ministry had planned , so Moscow's forces would continue to target them. He didn't specify the targets.
After months during which strikes in central Kyiv were rare, last week's attacks put the country and its capital back on edge.
The strike on Kyiv comes as fighting has intensified in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in recent days, as well as the continued Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south near Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Zelenskyy said on Sunday that there was heavy fighting around the cities of Bakhmut and Soledar in the Donetsk region.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the industrial east known as the Donbas, and were two of four regions annexed by Russia in September in defiance of international law.