Ukraine has said it shot down more than 50 explosive “kamikaze” drones fired in the largest such attack of Russia’s war against its neighbour, as Kyiv’s military suggested it was now ready to launch a counteroffensive against the Kremlin’s invasion force.
“A record number of enemy strike drones were destroyed overnight. The vast majority in Kyiv region,” Mykola Oleshchuk, commander of Ukrainian air force, said on Sunday, as the country’s capital prepared for its annual Kyiv Day celebrations.
“From the ‘gifts’ sent by the occupiers for Kyiv Day, only fragments remained. This is how to thank the enemy for such a greeting,” he added.
Officials said 52 of 54 Iranian-made Shahed drones were destroyed by Ukraine’s air defence units, and that one person was killed and two injured when falling debris hit an apartment block in Kyiv. At least one other civilian was killed and several injured by shelling and drone and missile attacks on 12 regions of Ukraine over the previous 24 hours.
“I looked at the morning operational report and just shook my head... The Russians continue to demonstrate their two main ‘virtues’ – stupidity and stubbornness in various forms,” said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council.
In an interview published on Saturday, he described Ukraine’s long-planned counteroffensive as “a historic opportunity… that we cannot lose, so we can truly become an independent, big European country”.
“It could happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week. It would be weird if I were to name dates,” he told the BBC. “We have a very responsible task before our country. And we understand that we have no right to make a mistake.”
Ukraine has intensified drone, rocket and artillery fire on enemy command centres and supply lines in occupied territory in recent weeks, and anti-Kremlin Russian guerrillas fighting alongside Ukraine’s military launched a raid last week into Russian villages near the border.
The clearest signal of Ukraine’s readiness to launch major counterattack operations came from its top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, in a message he posted on social media on Saturday to accompany a video showing Ukrainian soldiers preparing for battle: “The time has come to take back what belongs to us,” he wrote.
Ukraine’s military reported reduced fighting in the devastated Donetsk-region town of Bakhmut, which Russia’s Wagner mercenary group claims to have fully occupied after months of intense artillery fire and then street fighting.
Wagner says most of its fighters are now withdrawing from the ruins of Bakhmut and will hand over positions to Russia’s regular military by June 1st. Ukraine says its forces are still present in one district of the city and have advanced around its flanks, threatening the Russian occupiers with potential encirclement.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group, said about 20,000 of its fighters had died in the battle for Bakhmut, but neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian military release their own official casualty figures.
However, it is clear that tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions of civilians displaced since Russia began its full-scale invasion in February 2022, yet Moscow insists it will win the war despite being driven back from several major Ukrainian cities last year and regardless of the powerful weaponry that Kyiv has received from western allies.
“It is a big idealistic mistake to think that Ukraine will prevail. Russia is 16 times bigger than Ukraine. We have enormous resources and we haven’t just started yet to act very seriously,” Andrei Kelin, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, told the BBC.