A protest sign outside the Iranian embassy in Kyiv on Oct. 17, 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.
KYIV, Ukraine — In flight, the Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone whines like a revving moped motor. After today, many people in Kyiv will never forget that sound.
A little before 7 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, Russia fired 28 of these so-called kamikaze drones at Ukraine’s capital city. Minutes after an early morning air raid alert, the telltale buzz of the drones preceded a series of explosions in Kyiv's city center that sent startled birds flying and civilians scrambling for shelter.
Some people sprinted from their beds to their apartment building’s bomb shelter. Those who were already out and about on the city streets sought cover in metro stations or underground passageways. In addition to the thunder of anti-aircraft weapons, gunfire crackled in some city quarters as troops and police officers took aim at the incoming drones.
“I heard the gunshots, and the loud engine. It sounded like a moped in the sky, and then a loud explosion. Yeah, it was scary,” Anton Nazarenko, 34, a Kyiv resident, told Coffee or Die Magazine while taking cover in a bomb shelter on Monday evening.
“Every time something made a noise outside today, or even when the kid next door watched a loud cartoon, I felt a little adrenaline,” Nazarenko said.
Inside a bomb shelter in Kyiv on Oct. 17, hours after Russian drones struck the city center. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.
The Russian attack reportedly killed four people in Kyiv, including a husband and wife who were both 34 years old. The wife was six months pregnant. Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko posted to social media a photo of debris from one downed drone found after the Monday morning strikes. The fragments included the marking, “Geran-2,” which is the Russian name for the Shahed-136.
According to Klitschko, Russia fired 28 Iranian drones at Kyiv today. Of that number, only five struck targets in the capital’s city center, including a residential building in the Shevchenkivskyi District. Ukrainian air defenses downed the remainder. Monday’s drone strikes in Kyiv come just one week after Russian missiles struck the city center at rush hour on Oct. 10 — part of a nationwide attack that day that killed 19 people.
"The enemy can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after today's attacks. “The occupiers will get only fair punishment and condemnation of future generations. And we will get victory.”
A recent surge in Russian missile and drone strikes has targeted civilians across Ukraine, as well as energy facilities. Russian strikes targeted energy infrastructure in three Ukrainian regions on Monday, causing blackouts in hundreds of settlements, Ukrainian officials reported.
For its part, Moscow claims its long-range strikes are precision-targeted to destroy Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Even so, Russian missiles routinely target exclusively non-military, civilian locations — such as strikes against a busy road intersection and a playground in central Kyiv on Oct. 10.
A protest sign outside Iran's embassy in Kyiv on Oct. 17, 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.
Rather than targeting Ukraine’s military on the battlefield, Russia’s long-range strikes are meant to cause civilian suffering — in terms of constant psychological pressure, as well as reduced access to electricity and heating. Last week’s strikes hit about 30% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Ukraine's Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told CNN. Consequently, many Ukrainians are preparing for a long, tough wartime winter.
“After the last massive attack, it became finally clear that we will not have an easy winter,” said Kostiantyn Kliatskin, 31, a filmmaker who lives in Kyiv. Referring to the Soviet government’s deliberate mass famine in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933, which killed millions, Kliatskin, a married father of one, added: “I think this winter will be the most difficult for Ukraine, but I am sure that the nation that survived the Holodomor will also survive the rashist invasion.”
The Holodomor, which translates literally to "death by hunger" or "killing by starvation," is also known as the Great Famine and is estimated to have caused from 3.5 million to 5 million deaths in Ukraine. A blended word commonly used in Ukraine to describe Russians, the term “rashist” combines the words, “Russian,” “racist,” and “fascist.”
In addition to their apartment in Kyiv, Kliatskin’s family owns a small house outside the city, which they’ve turned into a family “fortress” for this winter.
“We worked all summer to make it autonomous in winter,” Kliatskin told Coffee or Die. “It is old, but after a little repair, it became our fortress for the winter, with a small pot and stocks of food and water. We consider this option only if it is no longer possible to stay in Kyiv … our main focus is the safety of the child.”
In July, Russian officials reportedly struck a deal with Tehran to purchase hundreds of the armed Shahed-136 drones. The expendable, $20,000 Iranian drones allow Moscow to strike targets in Ukraine at a fraction of the cost of cruise missiles. A relatively new weapon that became part of Iran’s operational arsenal over the past few years, the Shahed-136 carries an internal guidance system that steers toward GPS coordinates and has a range of at least 620 miles, possibly up to about 1,240 miles.
Propeller-driven and powered by a 50-horsepower, Chinese MD 550 engine, the slow-flying Iranian drones are vulnerable to ground- and air-based missiles, as well as small-arms fire. Even so, each ground-based launch truck typically carries five drones, allowing for launch formations that can overwhelm air defenses.
After Monday’s attack on Kyiv, a document circulated on Ukrainian social media detailing how to shoot down a drone with small-arms fire. A spokesman for Ukraine’s air force advised Ukrainian civilians on Monday not to use their personal firearms to shoot at incoming drones, warning about the dangers of fired rounds descending back into populated areas.
A separate instruction manual, which also made the rounds on Ukrainian social media channels Monday, detailed what actions to take to survive a drone attack. Above all, the manual recommends, “Find shelter and wait out the attack.”
If caught outside, the manual advises: “Look for any ledge, depression in the ground, or ditch. Lie on the ground, cover your head with your hands and open your mouth.”
On Monday evening, at the time of this article’s writing, another air raid alert sent Kyiv’s residents scrambling for shelter. Seated in the basement of an apartment building in the city center, scrolling his social media accounts on his smartphone, Nazarenko exhaled at length and said, “It’s gonna be a long night.”
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