- Written by Adam Robinson and Kailyn Devlin
- BBC Watch and BBC Check
The Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, has been repeatedly bombed by missiles and drones over the past few weeks. Most attacks come at night.
In central Kiev, Natalia Lyashchenko lost count of the times the sound of sirens, drones and missiles kept her from sleeping. During one of the nighttime raids, she said the bright lights in the dark sky were “like Star Wars”.
Such strikes are becoming more frequent. Experts believe Russia is changing tactics in an effort to undermine Ukraine’s air defenses — but they also suspect it is, in a sense, attacking Ukraine’s civilian population in response to setbacks in the war.
BBC Verify analyzed local media reports, eyewitness accounts and statements from local officials and the Ukrainian military to build a picture of the escalation of these air attacks on Kiev and across the country since the beginning of this year.
In January, there were only three days when Russia launched air strikes on targets in Ukraine.
In May, this number increased to 21 days. Attacks also took place in the first two days of June.
In addition to ramping up attacks, Russia appears to have changed its main targets.
The aim of the attacks is to weaken Ukraine’s air defenses, says Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation.
“Now we’re seeing more strikes against large population centers, which puts Ukraine in a position where they have to expend interceptors to defend their cities,” she says.
Interceptors are surface-to-air missiles used to shoot down attacking drones or missiles.
But there may also be another reason for the increased frequency of attacks, says Ms. Massicott.
“I think we’re seeing a mix of two things: realizing they need to weaken Ukraine’s air defenses, and attacking some of their setbacks,” she says.
Kyiv was the worst hit
Russia increasingly focused its strikes on the capital, Kiev.
Kiev was targeted in 17 out of 21 reported Russian attacks on Ukraine in May, compared to two out of seven attacks in April.
It took a psychological toll on the townspeople. Polina Karabash lives in the suburbs, about five or six kilometers outside the center of Kiev.
On April 28th, she was awakened at 04:00 to a loud noise outside.
“I was feeling really anxious because the news channel I usually watch wasn’t working so I couldn’t get many details,” she told the BBC.
What you didn’t know at the time was that Russian cruise missiles were flying in the sky, and were eventually destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses.
Local officials say all missiles or drones targeting Kiev have been shot down, with any damage caused by falling debris.
This has not been independently verified.
Greg Bagwell, president of the British Air and Space Federation and a former RAF commander, told the BBC that Kiev appeared to be a “strategic” rather than a “military” target.
He says: “Kiev is the center of government.” “It plays more into the idea that Russia is really trying to create a totemic sense of victory. It’s more about symbolism than actual military effect.”
Whatever the motives, there are very few corners of Kiev that haven’t felt the impact of drone and missile strikes.
Natalia Lyashchenko told the BBC about her experience during one such raid on 4 May.
“It started with sirens in the night and then about 15-20 minutes later the fight started,” she says.
She takes refuge at a metro station a short distance from her home, taking with her only her passport and her cat.
“It’s not a game,” she says, “it’s war. We’ve lost our jobs, our homes, our health. We have big challenges ahead.”
“After we win, it will take 10 or 20 years – maybe more – to recover mentally. But I think we will survive, because the Ukrainians have shown good determination to stay.”
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