ZHITOMIR REGION, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian air defense crews are deploying newer and better weapons systems to prevent their country from being plunged into darkness again in a second winter of Russian missile and drone strikes.
Almost half of Ukraine’s power system was damaged by Russian attacks last winter, when Moscow pounded power plants and transformers with cruise missiles and Iranian-made Shahed drones. At times, millions of people had no electricity.
The threat of attacks on the power grid remains acute after Moscow reportedly set up its own facilities to manufacture attack drones based on the Shahed-136.
Vadym Skybytskyi, a Ukrainian intelligence official, said last week Moscow may begin deploying more Shaheds alongside missiles to confuse Ukraine’s air defenses by presenting a range of targets.
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Skybytskyi said Russian attacks on energy infrastructure could begin in late September or early October.
But most of last winter’s damage has been repaired and Kiev has beefed up its air defenses, including with newly donated German Gepard systems – sleek green turrets mounted on main battle tank chassis.
According to the military, one such system has shot down five Shaheds since it was first deployed a month ago — a 100% success rate.
“We understand that the enemy has not given up their criminal intentions to attack critical infrastructure and harm Ukraine and its economy,” General Serhiy Naiev, commander of the combined forces of the armed forces, told Reuters in the northern Zhytomyr region.
“We had less (systems) last winter. Now we’ve got more, and the effectiveness will be better,” he said during a visit to the region to present medals.
Military analysts estimate the Shaheds cost about $20,000 each, but the western-supplied air-defense missiles deployed by Kiev last winter cost several times that.
Naiev said a shell fired by Cheetah anti-aircraft guns costs less than $1,000, making them more cost-effective.
Each cheetah has a radar with an effective radius of 12 km (7.5 miles). Ukraine doesn’t have enough to cover its entire territory, but Naiev said large-caliber machine guns like the US-made M2 Browning helped fill in the gaps.
Anton, a crew member in charge of homing, spoke of the excitement when the crew shot down drones in two night raids in August.
“Adrenaline, emotional overload … you can’t put it in words,” he said. “We’re not scared. It drives us to work (hard) and destroy targets in the Ukrainian skies.”
(Edited by Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan)
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