Sunrise Attack

It is Monday, October 17th, 2022, and Russia has taken to the skies to use drones to bomb civilian structures in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv. The start of the attacks coincided with the morning rush hour. The first explosions were noted minutes before 7:00 AM local time. At least four people were killed. Among the dead was a young couple, their bodies dragged together from the fiery remains of an urban residential building. The woman had been six months pregnant.

This video purports to show an Iranian-made HESA Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) hitting its mark in Kyiv today.

It was exactly one week ago, October 10th, when Moscow began punishing Ukraine for a successful mission that knocked out a portion of the Crimea bridge one week before that. Sections of the bridge, the only physical connection between Crimea and Russia, were dropped into the sea (likely the result of a covert SOF mission), significantly hampering Russian efforts to retake the Kherson region of Ukraine. President Putin is soothing that blow to his ego by launching waves of attacks against the Ukrainian populace.

According to the Associated Press, the attacks on the 10th killed at least 14 people and wounded another 100. Most of these attacks were launched far from the front lines and originated from the land, sea, and air. They impacted some military targets and energy plants in addition to civilian structures. One missile struck a playground, another, a University. The severity of the attacks caused mass blackouts in many parts of the nation. People lost access to running water in many places because the pumps needed to push the water were powered by electricity.

A senior advisor to Ukrainian President Zelensky told the international press that the attacks “served no practical military purpose” and supposed that it was the goal of the Russian government to create what he called a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Putin’s response? He claimed his military was only targeting military targets in response to what he called “a terrorist attack” on the Crimea Bridge. But, of course, we’ve heard all of this before.

Memories of World War II

That brings us back to the drone attacks on Kyiv today. Sources on the ground reported to the New York Times that the incoming drones sounded like mopeds or motorcycles. Minds raced to the deadly attack days before as they quickly sought whatever shelter they could. Children already at school followed their teacher’s orders to hide in the basement. The Times relays the story of 86-year-old Yulia Oleksandrivna and how today’s sirens brought back vivid memories of the air raid sirens she heard as a youth during World War II. She fled Russia with her family 83 years earlier at age 5.

She remembers:

“The sound of the sirens that we have these days, I know this sound from my childhood. At the start and at the end of my life, this is the music of my life.”

Drones buzzed the waking city, looking for targets. Why drones? They are far less expensive than the rockets and missiles used in the previous attack. There is also the terror factor; listening to the high-pitched buzzing and whining engines will force your blood pressure through the roof and drive you mad with anticipation, never knowing where or when they will explode. You don’t need to use psychological warfare if you are blowing up a factory or electrical plant. The Russians know this.

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If you listen to this the sounds in this video very carefully, you can hear the faint hum of a drone above the gunshots, shouting, and general din of a city under siege. A fraction of a second before you hear the explosion, the hum cuts out. It is out of frame, but that is when the building is struck. You may be wondering about the small arms fire. What are people shooting at? They are frantically trying to hit the drone out of the sky before it can reach its target.

What Are These Suicide Drones?

The HESA Shahed-136, or Shahed-136 drones, are manufactured in Iran. You might have heard of them as the Geran-2, as the Russians call them. It means “geranium.” What they have in common with the purple flower is beyond me. The Ukrainians also refer to them by the less colorful name of “the flying moped.” 

Whatever you call them, they have a little over 8 feet wingspan, and an MD-550 piston engine driving a pusher propeller keeps them in the air. They require a rocket assist to take off. These are loitering munitions, meaning roughly that they can remain aloft for a time as they search for a target. This drone is not particularly fast, achieving only a top speed of about 115 mph. However, they are not expensive, at an estimated $20,000 each, making them a go-to weapon on non-hardened, lightly defended targets when rockets and missiles are in short supply. It is typical for many drones to be used during an attack as the most each one can deliver is an 88 lb warhead.

Iranian drones sit on stands in a room
Five Iranian Shahed-136 drones sit on their stands—image by Wikimedia Commons.

Despite seven months of war and repeated attacks, the resolve of the Ukrainian people remains firm. Today, President Zelensky spoke to his people and the world through a Telegram post.

“All night and all morning, the enemy terrorizes the civilian population. Kamikaze drones and missiles are attacking all of Ukraine. A residential building was hit in Kyiv. The enemy can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us.”