By HANNA ARHIROVA and VASILISA STEPANENKO
KYIV, Ukraine — Multiple explosive drones attacked Ukraine’s capital before dawn Monday as Moscow pursues its campaign to torment the invaded country from the air amid a broad battlefield stalemate.
In a sign that Russia might be seeking ways to bolster depleted forces, President Vladimir Putin traveled to Belarus, which provided the Kremlin’s troops with a launch pad for the invasion of Ukraine almost 10 months ago.
The drone attack came three days after what Ukrainian officials described as one of Russia’s biggest assaults on Kyiv since the war started. Moscow has targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October as part of a strategy to try to leave the country without heat and light during the bitterly cold winter.
It has kept up that effort despite Western sanctions and the supply of Western air defense systems to Ukrainian forces.
Russia launched 23 self-exploding drones over Kyiv while the city slept, but Ukrainian forces shot down 18 of them, the Kyiv city administration said on Telegram. No major casualties were reported from the attack, although the Ukrainian president’s office said the war killed at least three civilians and wounded 11 elsewhere in the country between Sunday and Monday.
Residents watch at a burning infrastructure project hit during a massive Russian drone night strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Thick smoke rises between apartment houses from a burning infrastructure project hit during a Russian drone night strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Residents watch at a burning infrastructure project hit during a Russian drone night strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Olha Kobzarenko, 84, searches for her dog Malysh after a Russian drone attack damaged her house in the village of Stari Bezradychi, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Ivan kobzarenko, 83, sits inside his damaged house with a head injury following a Russian drone attack in the village of Stari Bezradychi, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks via video link as Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak listen, during the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) meeting in Riga, Latvia, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (Henry Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP)
Charitable medical organization Frida volunteer examines a patient in a basement in Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian invaders, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Ukrainian-Israeli mission FRIDA provides emergency medical relief to the most vulnerable of Ukrainian citizens who have suffered from the Russian aggression and are in need of medical care. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
A cross on the new tomb with the writing “Unknown woman” in a cemetery in Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian invaders, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
The drone barrage caused emergency power outages in 11 central and eastern regions of the country, including the capital region, authorities said.
Monday was St. Nicholas Day, an occasion that marks the start of the Christmas holidays in Ukraine and is when children typically receive their first gifts hidden under pillows.
“This is how Russians congratulated our children on the holiday,” Serhii Kruk, the head of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, wrote on Telegram, attaching photos of firefighters barely distinguished amid the flames of an infrastructure facility that got hit.
“In the night when everyone is waiting for a miracle, the terrorist country continues to terrorize the peaceful Ukrainian people,” Ukraine’s human rights chief, Dmytro Lubinets, said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the unrelenting daily barrages as “terror” and once again pleaded for Western countries to send sophisticated air defense systems as winter tightens its grip.
“A 100% air defense shield for Ukraine will be one of the most successful steps against Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy said by video link at a northern European regional threat conference in Latvia. “This step is needed right now.”
Bits of wreckage from the downed drones damaged a road in the central Solomianskyi district and broke windows in a multi-story building in the Shevchenkyvskyi district of Kyiv, city officials said.
One drone struck the home of Olha and Ivan Kobzarenko, ages 84 and 83, in the outskirts of the capital. Ivan sustained a head injury.
Their garage was completely destroyed and their dog, Malysh, was killed. Olha, speaking in her bedroom where shattered glass and blood covered the floor, said the blast flung the front gate into the couple’s house.
“I know that I am not alone,” Olha said. “Everyone is suffering. Everyone.”
Nina Sobol, a 59-year-old clerk working at one of the city’s power companies, was on her way to work when the strikes happened. Like many of her colleagues, she waited outside while emergency services inspected damage.
“I feel really anxious,” she said. “Anxious because you never know at which moment there will be an incoming missile.”
Ukraine’s air force said on Telegram that its personnel were able to destroy 30 of at least 35 self-exploding drones that Russia launched across the country from the eastern side of the Azov Sea on Ukraine’s southeast coast. Russia is on the other side of the sea.
The Ukrainian military has reported increasing success in shooting down incoming Russian missiles and explosive drones, but Zelenskyy said Moscow had received a fresh batch of drones from Iran.
On Friday, Ukraine’s capital was attacked as part of a massive strike from Russia. Dozens of missiles were launched across the country, triggering widespread power outages. Four people, including a toddler, were killed when a Russian missile tore through an apartment building in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih.
The spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry reported that Russian air defenses shot down four U.S.-made HARM missiles over Russia’s Belgorod region, which lies along Ukraine’s northeast border near Kharkiv. The claim by Lt.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov couldn’t be independently verified.
The U.S. has provided Ukraine with HARM missiles, which are launched by warplanes and intended to strike enemy radars.
Some 14,000 people in Belgorod were left without power Monday as the result of Ukrainian shelling, the region’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on Telegram.
Putin arrived in Belarus on Monday for talks with its authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, who allowed Russian forces to use Belarusian territory for invading Ukraine and has close defense links with Moscow.
It was a rare trip to Minsk by Putin, who usually receives Lukashenko at the Kremlin. Belarus is believed to have Soviet-era weapons stockpiles that could be useful for Moscow, while Lukashenko needs help with his country’s ailing economy.
Analysts say the Kremlin might look again for some kind of Belarusian military support for its Ukraine operations. But the winter weather and Russia’s depleted resources mean any attack probably won’t come soon, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington.
“The capacity of the Russian military, even reinforced by elements of the Belarusian armed forces, to prepare and conduct effective large-scale mechanized offensive operations in the next few months remains questionable,” the think tank said in an assessment published Sunday.
It also concluded that “it is unlikely that Lukashenko will commit the Belarusian military (which would also have to be re-equipped) to the invasion of Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet set off Monday to take part in joint naval drills with China. The exercise follows a series of joint maneuvers that have highlighted growing military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing as they both face tensions with the United States.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the United States was treading on dangerous ground by getting involved in the war in Ukraine.
“This dangerous and shortsighted policy has put the U.S. and Russia on the brink of a direct confrontation,” Zakharova said in a statement Monday. “Moscow is calling on Joe Biden’s administration to soberly assess the situation and refrain from dangerous escalation.”
Renata Brito in Kyiv contributed.