A Russian barrage also damaged a U.S.-made Patriot air-defense system, but officials said it was still working.
Ukraine’s air defense shot down six of the most sophisticated conventional weapons in Russia’s arsenal, hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, according to Ukrainian and American officials, during a barrage of missiles and drones aimed at Kyiv, the capital, on Tuesday.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said at least one Kinzhal had hit an American-made Patriot system, the most advanced U.S. ground-based air-defense system, which Washington had delivered to Ukraine after its urgent requests to help defend against an onslaught of Russian missile and drone attacks.
A statement from Ukraine’s Air Force did not specify whether the Patriot system had, in fact, been involved in shooting down Russian missiles in one of the largest aerial assaults by Moscow since early March. But two U.S. officials confirmed that a Patriot had been damaged, not destroyed, in the attack overnight Tuesday, an assessment initially reported by CNN. And one of the Americans confirmed that Ukraine had downed six Kinzhal missiles.
After an evaluation of the damage to the Patriot to determine whether parts of the system needed to be replaced or could be repaired, the initial conclusion was that the system, which was stationed in an airfield, was still operational against all threats — including hypersonic missiles — the American officials said.
“At 3 o’clock in the morning, our people woke up to explosions,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a speech via video to the Council of Europe, a human rights organization. “Eighteen Russian missiles of different types were in our skies, in particular, ballistic ones, which the terrorist state has boasted about.”
“We were told such missiles would bring a guaranteed death because they are supposedly impossible to shoot down,” he said, adding: “But all lives were protected. All missiles were shot down, including ballistic ones — 100 percent. This is a historical result.”
It has been unclear whether the Patriot could intercept hypersonic missiles, which many experts say may be too fast to be detected by radars in time for traditional air-defense systems to respond.
Hypersonic weapons can travel at least five times the speed of sound — more than a mile a second — and maneuver to evade defenses. U.S. officials have said the Kinzhal meets the definition, but some Western analysts have expressed doubts about its maneuverability.Ukraine had until recently lacked the capability to intercept Kinzhals and had pressed allies for Patriot systems. Only two such systems are believed to be in Ukraine, and the weapons are considered crucial to the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive to drive Russian forces out of its territory. Several dozen Ukrainian soldiers this year took a crash course on using the Patriot, training on U.S. soil.
A single interceptor missile from the Patriot costs about $4 million, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Each launcher costs around $10 million. Some analysts consider the system far from foolproof, and there is some debate about its true shoot-down rate.
Russia has targeted the Patriot before. On May 4, Ukraine’s Air Force said it had intercepted a Kinzhal — using the very Patriot system being targeted — for the first time since the war broke out in February 2022. Three senior U.S. officials confirmed that shoot-down and said they had received information about the strike from the Ukrainian military. One official added that U.S. military analysts had verified the claim using technical means.
Tuesday’s attack on Kyiv was the eighth large-scale assault on the city this month. The barrage was extraordinary in the number of missiles launched over a short period, said Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration. Ukrainian officials said the attacks were aimed at exhausting their air defenses.
The sky over Kyiv lit up around 3 a.m. Tuesday with thunderous explosions as air defenses collided with the incoming missiles, raining debris across the city. At least three people were injured, according to the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko. Cars caught fire, a building was damaged, and debris fell onto the grounds of the Kyiv Zoo, Mr. Klitschko said. None of the animals or workers were injured, he said.