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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ukraine says it shot down Kinzhal missiles, one of Russia’s most advanced weapons

Ukrainian servicemen watch as a fixed-wing training drone is deployed during a practice session with the Boryviter Drone School in the Kyiv region of Ukraine, May 16, 2023.

By Victoria Kim, Eric Schmitt and John Ismay

Ukraine’s air defense intercepted six hypersonic Kinzhal missiles fired by Russia early Tuesday, several Ukrainian officials and one American official said. The strikes are further evidence of Ukraine’s ability to shoot down one of the most sophisticated conventional weapons in Moscow’s arsenal.

In one of the largest aerial assaults since early March, Russia also launched nine Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea, three short-range ballistic missiles from land and a number of drones, according to the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces. All of the drones and missiles were shot down, the military said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that at least one Kinzhal was used in the attack on Tuesday and claimed that a Kinzhal had hit a Patriot air defense system. Two U.S. officials confirmed that a Patriot system had been damaged in the attack but added that the Patriot remained operational against all threats.

It was not immediately clear how many Russian missiles were aimed at the capital, Kyiv, which local officials said was targeted overnight with an “exceptional” blitz of missiles and drones. The skies over Kyiv lit up around 3 a.m. with thunderous explosions as air defenses collided with the incoming missiles, raining debris across the city.

A statement from Ukraine’s air force about the Kinzhals came quickly. It did not specify whether an American-made Patriot air defense system was involved in shooting down the Russian missiles, but Ukraine until recently lacked the capability to intercept Kinzhals and had pressed allies for Patriot systems that it hoped would provide protection.

In an address by video link later Tuesday to the Council of Europe, the main institution governing human rights on the continent, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “At 3 o’clock in the morning, our people woke up to explosions. Eighteen Russian missiles of different types were in our skies, in particular, ballistic ones, which the terrorist state has boasted about.”

“All lives were protected,” he added.

It has been unclear whether even the Patriot could intercept hypersonic missiles, which were thought by many experts to be too fast to be detected by radars in time for traditional air-defense systems to respond. But on May 4, Ukraine’s air force said it had for the first time managed to intercept a Kinzhal using a Patriot, a confirmation that took more than 24 hours.

Three senior U.S. officials confirmed that shoot-down and said they had received information about the strike from the Ukrainian military through classified channels. One official added that U.S. military analysts were able to verify the claim using technical means. Nevertheless, independent analysts were reluctant at the time to confirm the interception until more information was available.

Hypersonic missiles are long-range munitions capable of reaching speeds of at least Mach 5 — five times the speed of sound, or more than a mile a second.

Some Western analysts have remained skeptical about Moscow’s claims of hypersonic capacity, calling the missiles modified versions of existing conventional munitions, “new wine in old bottles.”

The aerial assault over Kyiv early Tuesday was the eighth large-scale attack on the city this month. Ukrainian officials have said the attacks were aimed at exhausting their air defenses. Tuesday’s barrage was extraordinary in the number of attacks launched at the capital over a short period of time, said Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration.

At least three people were injured by the debris, according to the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko. Several cars caught fire, a building was damaged and debris fell onto the grounds of the Kyiv Zoo, Klitschko said. None of the animals or workers were injured, the mayor said.

Kyiv’s air defenses have been largely successful at shielding the capital from major damage in the recent spate of attacks, which followed a lull of nearly two months.

The latest bombardment took place as Zelenskyy posted video of himself on a train returning to Kyiv after a four-country tour in Western Europe during which he secured pledges for even more air-defense systems, attack drones and armored vehicles.

Britain promised air-defense missiles and drones in addition to the long-range cruise missiles it recently delivered. Germany said it would provide a nearly $3 billion package including 16 air-defense systems, more than 200 drones, Leopard tanks and armored fighting vehicles.

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