— At one point, my kids and I slept in the hallway for three weeks. I went to sleep not sure if we would all wake up, says Inna Kozich, a communications specialist from Kiev. When she recalls the first weeks of last year’s Russian siege of the capital, her eyes still water.
However, air defense makes him feel safer in Kiev than anywhere else in Ukraine – so much so that he is afraid to go outside the city.
— I was afraid to take my children on vacation because I knew that other regions did not have as strong air defense as we did. I feel very sorry for Ukrainians who still have to live under daily Russian fire, Kozich said.
When the full-scale Russian invasion began on February 24, 2022, President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the West to close the Ukrainian skies to Russian aircraft and missiles. That didn’t happen, but Ukraine’s allies continually deployed some of their best air defense systems to help protect Ukrainian cities, especially Kiev.
When the war broke out, Kiev relied on Soviet S-300 and Buk M1 medium-range anti-missile systems — which was problematic because the replacement missiles are largely produced by Russia.
Lehtikuva Oy / East News
BUK M1 anti-aircraft missile system
Now Ukrainian defense is reinforced with German Gepard short-range anti-aircraft systems and the American Avenger system (also short-range). Their task is to destroy Russian drones and cruise missiles.
When it comes to medium-range anti-aircraft missile systems, Ukraine uses American MIM-23 Hawk missiles, the German IRIS-T SLM air defense system and NASAMS – a system that was created as a result of cooperation between the Norwegian technology group Kongsberg and the American arms company Raytheon.
Long-range defense is provided by the American Patriot PAC-3 and Eurosam SAMP/T supplied by France and Italy. Ukrainian air defense forces have shown that they are able to integrate modern systems with those from the Soviet era.
Support still needed
— We continue to expect support from allies and partners. We need more and more diverse air defense, not only for the capital, but also for every Ukrainian city. Every anti-aircraft missile complex is worth its weight in gold for us, Serhiy Popko, head of the Kiev military administration, told POLITICO.
After that in May Russia put Patriot systems to the test for the first time, unsuccessfully attacking the capital for over 20 days, Kiev’s residents felt relatively safe for the first time.
— We were waiting for these patriots as if they were manna from heaven. It was such a relief, Inna Kozich said.
ABACA / East News
The American Patriot air defense system sent to Ukraine in response to an urgent request from Kiev
Soon after, Ukrainians from other regions where air defenses are not as strong began to move to Kiev and the surrounding area — even though it is still frequently attacked by Russian troops. This weekend, Russia sent waves of drones to Kiev, most of which were shot down.
“Your accuracy is literally life for Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a weekend speech. — As winter approaches, there will be more and more Russian attempts to increase the force of the strikes. For all of us in Ukraine, 100% effectiveness is crucial.
The largest Ukrainian cities have become a refuge for people fleeing Russian attacks. According to September estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are currently almost 600,000 people in Kiev and its surroundings. displaced persons from other parts of Ukraine. Other large cities are also recording an influx of internally displaced persons, with nearly half a million people taking refuge in the Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv oblasts.-
— The first active phase of internal migration began immediately after the liberation of the Kiev Oblast. At that time, people from cities where active hostilities were taking place came here. Then, when the patriot appeared, people from Dnieper and Zaporozhye began to actively move and look for apartments in Kiev, explaining that it was better protected, said Oleksandr Zhytiuk, a Ukrainian real estate broker.
— At the end of May this year, Ukrainians from abroad also began to return to the country – despite the fact that the Russians fired at us almost every day. This proved the effectiveness of air defense. Today, people believe that it is calmer in Kiev, he added.
Before the Russian invasion, approximately 3.9 million people lived in the Ukrainian capital. By spring 2022, approximately 1.9 million of them left Kiev. Most of them have already returned, said Denys Sudilkowski, director of the online real estate platform LUN.
According to LUN data, in the fall of 2022, rental prices practically returned to the pre-aggression level.
—The pace of people returning slowed as the Russians began shelling energy infrastructure. However, the winter of 2022/2023 showed that Kiev is able to protect its skies thanks to modern Western air defense systems. Already in the spring of 2023, we started to observe a further increase in demand for long-term rental apartments in Kiev, said Sudilkovsky.
Still a war zone
However, the weekend attacks showed that the capital is still under threat. Air raid sirens blare almost daily and Ukrainian officials are urging people to be careful.
— Thanks to additional air defense systems, the level of protection of the capital against air attacks has increased. But I never get tired of saying that the best defense is to go to a shelter during an air raid emergency. “Bitter experience proves that even downed missiles pose a deadly threat due to the numerous fragments,” said Serhiy Popko, head of the Kiev military administration.
Yuliia Ovsyannikova / East News
People sit on the floor in a subway during an airstrike, Kiev, Ukraine, November 15, 2023.
Although Ukrainians in Kiev feel safer, residents of the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine still suffer from daily bombings. The Russians are attacking Odessa and its strategic port, as well as the areas of Kherson, Donetsk and Zaporozhye.
— I still remember the sound I heard when our patriot shot down the first one that summer [rosyjską] Kindjal rocket. Since then I have known that whatever the Russians shoot at us, our air defense will shoot it down. But people in other cities still don’t have the luxury of feeling like I do, Kozich said, adding that she’s still afraid to leave the city.
The Ukrainian government is calling on its allies to provide greater air defense in other cities as well.
— The better the Ukrainian sky, Ukrainian cities and villages are protected, the more opportunities for our citizens in terms of business activity, production, including the defense industry, Zelensky said in a video statement.
He added that Kiev wants to co-produce weapons with its partners and expects its allies to send more air defense systems by the end of the year to fend off Russia’s expected winter attacks on energy infrastructure.
— The Russians are sneaky, and intimidating civilians with missile terror is one of their strategies. They will never give up shelling civilians and infrastructure. That’s why we need to make sure we have something that will protect our people, Kozich said.