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Kyiv targeted by Russian kamikaze drones


Russian forces targeted the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv again today, but this time they deployed kamikaze drones. The attacks were unsettling and deadly. But what's less clear is whether they change anything about the war, a war in which Ukraine continues to have the upper hand. For more on this, we've got NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman on the line with us. Hey, Tom.


CHANG: OK. So can you first tell us a little more about these latest drones?

BOWMAN: Well, again, these are Iranian-made drones. Hundreds have been sent to the Russians. And as you say, they're kamikaze drones that explode on impact - basically terror weapons. Now, the Russians launched 28 into Kyiv, and the Ukrainians were able to shoot down all but five of them. And the ones that got through killed four people, including a young couple expecting a baby. Now, The Washington Post reported today, by the way, that - and NPR confirmed - that the Iranians may send even more sophisticated drones and long-range missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine, escalating the fight even more, Ailsa.

CHANG: Well, Ukraine, I mean, they've also deployed drones pretty effectively throughout this war, right? Like, what kinds of drones does Ukraine have at the moment?

BOWMAN: Oh, they're very effective. The Ukrainians are getting all sorts of drones. There are Turkish-made drones, another from the U.S. - a kamikaze drone, again - called a switchblade, which has been able to take out Russian armored vehicles. There's another called Phoenix Ghost, which can loiter in the sky for up to six hours and conduct surveillance of Russian forces - even has infrared sensors so it can operate at night. The U.S. is sending hundreds of them.

CHANG: Well, OK. Well, all of this comes in the wake of missile strikes on Kyiv and throughout Ukraine about a week ago. What are you hearing from U.S. officials about where things stand right now?

BOWMAN: Well, things aren't going well for the Russians on the ground. They're losing ground in the east in the Donbass area and also in the south around the city of Kherson. So it seems the Russians are relying on missiles and drones to basically pummel Ukraine - mostly, it seems, the civilian population. They're striking apartment buildings, playgrounds, power facilities and dams all meant to break the will of the Ukrainian people as winter approaches. So the U.S. and NATO nations are sending more and better air defense systems, including one called NASAMS, which, by the way, is used to protect the Washington, D.C., area, including the White House. Now, that can monitor dozens of targets and is expected to be in Ukraine in the coming weeks. But here's the thing, Ailsa. It's important to note that there's no complete umbrella with air defense. The Pentagon says with these better systems they can, you know, better protect critical areas - of course, Kyiv and other cities and Ukrainian troops. But again, it's not a complete umbrella.

CHANG: All right. Well, I get, Tom, that no one can predict the future. But I am curious. What are your sources saying about where this war might be headed?

BOWMAN: Well, Ukraine, again, seems to have the upper hand on the ground. They're on the move, taking casualties, of course, but seizing more ground from the Russians. The Russians are getting hit hard by long-range artillery provided by the U.S. and others, losing command centers, troops and supplies That will make it only harder for the Russians as winter sets in. But it's important to note, as military officials tell us, the Russians still have a lot of firepower, as we've seen with the attacks on Kyiv, not necessarily precision rockets or missiles, but enough to make life miserable for the average Ukrainian. And no one I talked with believes this war will end any time soon. There's no appetite on either side to sit down and talk.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tom Bowman. Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.