War Notes from Illia PonomarenkoFriday, May 19, 2023.

A great personal update from a wonderful journalist at Kyiv Independent focusing on the various missile attacks this week

Hello everyone!

And welcome to War Notes, Vol. 4, basically a podcast in writing from your favorite Ukrainian media, the Kyiv Independent.

As I write these words, I keep thinking: “Oh please, don’t have yet another story on how stupid the Russian war on Ukraine is.” 

Well, I tried, and I failed. 

This week we again saw how the Kremlin’s systemic thirst for in-your-face propaganda bravado repeatedly brings it to humiliation, as well as to highly unjustified waste of military resources and, eventually, a failure. 

And yes, I’m talking about this week’s main event — the epic air battle over Kyiv on May 16.

In Bucha, next to Kyiv, I had a very usual calm night. But boy, oh boy, the whole of Kyiv was up at night, watching the sky burn, with missiles flying over and being shot down right above everyone’s heads. 

The unprecedented air battle continued for over 20 minutes and was extremely loud.

The Ukrainian Air Force reported 25 missiles of various types, including 6 X-47M2 Kinzhal missiles, successfully intercepted over Kyiv. Several Russian attack and surveillance drones were also allegedly downed.

It was a coordinated massive attack to possibly overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses and attempt to destroy the recently provided MIM-104 Patriot air defense system.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that what happened that night was historic. 

This was arguably the first instance of the world’s most advanced strike missiles and air defenses clashing in intense combat over a major capital city at such a scale.

And two days later, it’s obvious that this was a decisive Ukrainian air defense victory.

Members of Germany’s Bundeswehr look at MIM-104 Patriot missile launching systems at the Luftwaffe Warbelow training center on Dec. 18, 2012, in Warbelow, Germany (Sean Gallup)

The Ukrainian military reported all missiles and drones destroyed over Kyiv. But even if we distance ourselves from Ukrainian official reports, we see what happened to our city with our eyes. 

Missile debris crashed upon several locations in the city (including the Kyiv Zoo), causing fires and destroying cars at parking lots. As of now, we still have no information regarding any casualties.

And even if there were hits that we do not know of, the Russian barrage’s cost and goals would still be higher than any outcome they eventually achieved.

According to estimates by Forbes Ukraine, on that night, Russia wasted an equivalent of at least $120 million, which includes six low-stock Kinzhal missiles that cost at least $10 million a piece and require a long time to manufacture. 

However, the whole thing is, of course, not about money. 

Russia wanted to vindicate the bitter humiliation it faced as the Kinzhal, the invincible “hypersonic” superweapon worshiped by the Kremlin’s war propaganda, was successfully intercepted over Kyiv on May 9 by a U.S.-built advanced air defense system Patriot. 

So it sent six more Kinzhals, along with some 21 Kh-101/Kh-555, six Kalibrs, and two Iskander-K missiles, to try again.

And the result is next to nothing. 

The Patriot was indeed hit by the attack but not destroyed as the Russian Defense Ministry claimed. From what is confirmed by the U.S. and what we hear from Ukraine’s military, a Patriot component sustained minor damage.

We know for sure that this was minor damage, and the system remained operational. It was fixed on the spot, according to the Pentagon.

What’s not clear as of now is what exactly caused the damage — whether it was an incoming missile, intercepted missile debris, or something else.

And we do not know for sure which component was damaged — whether it was a radar or a control unit (which is bad) or a launcher (which is not so bad). 

Given everything we know and have seen on videos, my guess is that it was a launcher sustaining non-critical damage.

In any case, it’s pretty safe to say that the much-advertised American-made air defense shows a top performance here in Ukraine.

As you might remember, we at the Kyiv Independent a while ago asked a question if the MIM-104 can prove their worth in the hardest battlefield these systems have ever seen.

I see that we’re having a very strong yes.

This week, we have witnessed something that has a good chance of becoming a classic case for studying modern missile defense. And the Ukrainian military has again proved itself as very possibly the world’s most experienced and most competent air defense power — especially now that they are finally given appropriate tools. 

By the way, we now know more about the kind of Patriot systems that were supplied to Ukraine. 

When Patriots first arrived in Ukraine, I was worried that Western transfers were limited to the PAC-2 version only, which is focused mostly on aerodynamic targets (e.g., aircraft and cruise missiles).

A fragment discovered in Kyiv following the May 16 missile battle was identified as a CRI interceptor. This means that we have a PAC-3 version that is specialized in ballistic targets, the biggest threat Ukraine couldn’t mitigate since Feb. 24, 2022. 

PAC-3 CRI is not as advanced as PAC-3 MSE, but still, it uses Hit-to-Kill technology and, as we can see, is very effective against ballistic targets. 

And Russians… As always, when facing a humiliating failure, they go into complete denial and then start spreading nonsense so ridiculous that even Russian pro-war Telegram channels don’t buy it.

First, the Russian Defense Ministry dances with joy, proclaiming a Patriot destroyed in Kyiv, even though there has been nothing to back up such claims. 

Then, they deny the very fact that their beloved “hypersonic” Kinzhals were ever intercepted or even used, even though the Ukrainian military showed the debris (which Telegram channels deny and then admit as the remains of a Kinzhal).

Then, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu went on and claimed that as many as five Patriot systems were destroyed in Kyiv.

Well, I got some bad news for Russia’s top general, who never served a day in the military. 

Each Patriot system consists of between six and 12 components, which include a radar, control unit, launchers, and so on. And these elements stand hundreds of meters, even kilometers apart from each other, to cover the widest area possible. 

So a Kinzhal missile can, in theory, hit and destroy just one of these components, making a Patriot system temporarily inoperable (if it loses a radar or a command unit and needs replacement), or reducing the number of launchers it can operate. 

But when it comes to the whole system, as even Russian Telegram channels admit, even a tactical nuclear weapon would not be enough to certainly destroy all of the system’s components. 

So as always, when things go wrong with their “we’re-gonna-show-you-now” plans, the official Russian military just comes up with fakes that only the most staunch Kremlin fans buy. 

I guess that’s it for this week… sending you lots of love from Ukraine, where history happens at every corner. 

P.S. Remember so many saying back in the day that Patriots would be too hard and time-consuming for Ukrainians to master? That didn’t age well.

Subscribe to our Ukraine Daily newsletter

We select the most important war updates, add our exclusive reports, interviews, and explainers, and deliver the digest right to your mailbox every single day.Subscribe


  1. We all know the scum lie through their teeth. If the Patriot was destroyed, as they claim, the obvious follow up would have been to launch another super duper, invincible, hypersonic missile attack on the remaining Patriot systems. Just like the attack on the Kremlin with drones, lots of loud noise come out of the Kremlin, just to be swept under the carpet, and forgotten about, as though it never happened.

  2. “In any case, it’s pretty safe to say that the much-advertised American-made air defense shows a top performance here in Ukraine.”

    What American system hasn’t performed top-notch? In this regard, which foreign system have the Ukrainians not fully mastered?

Enter comments here: