Kyiv residents have faced almost nightly air raid sirens and thundering explosions

Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday praised his country’s air defence forces, after the capital Kyiv saw the largest drone attack since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The overnight attack killed two people and wounded three others.

The latest drone attack came as Russia has intensified aerial strikes on the capital this month, and warned the West against escalating the conflict after the United States agreed to greenlight F-16 deliveries.

Ukraine said the latest attack in Kyiv was the largest of the invasion, with around forty out of more than fifty drones targeting the capital.

“Most of the destruction was averted, and most of the lives that could have been taken by these Shaheds (drones) were saved,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily evening address.

Map showing the situation in Ukraine, as of May 26 at 0700 GMT

” I am grateful to each and every person who made it possible!… Thank you warriors!” he said.

This was the 14th drone attack on the Ukrainian capital by Russia this month.

“People are in shock. There’s a lot of damage, the windows were broken, the roof was damaged,” said Sergei Movchan, a 50-year-old resident whose house was damaged by debris.

Kyiv had been relatively spared since the beginning of the year, but in May its residents have had to live with almost nightly air raid sirens and thundering explosions.

The air raid alert lasted more than five hours overnight Saturday as the attack was carried out in several waves.

“Russians are intimidating us. But I think it’s the agony of their regime,” Movchan said.

- ‘How Russia celebrates’ -

Authorities reported that two were killed and three others wounded as debris of the downed drones fell in several districts.

Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko described the assault as “massive” with drones “arriving from several directions at once”.

The Kyiv military administration first said that “more than 40 Russian drones were destroyed by air defence” systems in the “most important drone attack against the capital since the start of the invasion” in February 2022.

A drone explodes over the Ukraine capital after being hit by air-defence systems

Zelensky later revised the number to 36 drones downed over the capital and its region.

“During this terrorist attack, the most powerful strike was directed against the Kyiv region,” Zelensky said during his evening address.

“This is how Russia celebrates the Day of our ancient Kyiv.”

Sunday was to be celebrated as Kyiv’s city day, usually marked by street concerts and performances.

“Kyiv, a city of free and brave people, has become a symbol of Ukraine’s unbreakable spirit and the Kremlin’s failed imperial ambitions,” Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said.

A fire erupted at an industrial facility after massive Russian drone strikes

Ukraine said its air defence forces had shot down 58 out of 59 drones launched by Russia overnight, according to updated information.

Ukraine’s air force had earlier said that a “record” of 54 drones had been launched.

Zelensky, who also used the earlier number of 54 drones launched, reported some damage in the western Zhytomyr region.

- ‘Key ally’ -

Russia used Shahed drones from Iran, Ukrainian officials said, and presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak vowed new sanctions against Iran.

“Tehran has become a key ally of Moscow in this war, deliberately supplying it with weapons for attacks on civilian cities,” Podolyak said.

This week Zelensky had blasted Tehran’s “support for evil” and appealed to the Iranian people.

Iran had answered by saying Zelensky’s accusation was an attempt to gain the West’s military and financial support.

The past week also saw an unprecedented two-day incursion from Ukraine into Russia's Belgorod region

After Kyiv has long asked for advanced warplanes, the United States on Friday said it would allow Kyiv to acquire F-16 fighter jets, the most sophisticated material yet supplied by the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday said Western nations were “playing with fire” by agreeing to supply Ukraine with F-16s.

Lavrov called the move “an unacceptable escalation” of the conflict, in a TV interview posted on social media.

As the drone war rages, Russia has blamed Ukraine – and its Western backers – for increasing artillery and drone attacks on its territory, accusations Kyiv has mostly denied.

Most drones target Russian regions bordering Ukraine but they have sometimes reached hundreds of kilometres inside Russia, including a thwarted attack on the Kremlin itself.

The past week also saw an unprecedented two-day incursion from Ukraine claimed by two anti-Kremlin groups, with Russia using its air force and artillery to push back the fighters.

The reports of attacks come at a time when Kyiv says it is finalising plans for a counter-offensive to recover lost territory, including the Crimea peninsula which was annexed in 2014.