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Ukraine: Zelenskyy aide says Russian balloons part of attack

Wesley Dockery
February 16, 2023

Ukrainian presidential official Ihor Zhovka told DW that Russia is using balloons to exhaust Ukraine's air defenses. He also reiterated calls for fighter jets from the West, and said retaking Crimea is necessary.

Rescuers deployed after a house was damaged during a Russian missile strike in Ukraine
Missiles, drones and other aerial weapons are used by Russia to inflict serious damage and casualties on Ukraine Image: Valentyn Ogirenko/REUTERS

Ihor Zhovkva, the Deputy Head of the Office for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy,  said on Thursday that Russia is using suspected spy balloons as part of a multi-pronged aerial assault.

Ukrainian authorities said Thursday that six alleged spy balloons were located over the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. In response, the Kyiv military administration said the balloons were shot out of the sky. 

In an interview with DW, Zhovkva said Russia launched another attack on Wednesday "across the whole country." He did not speculate whether Russia has commenced a new offensive ahead of the one-year February 24 anniversary of the Kremlin-backed invasion.

Russia now 'combining its efforts' when firing on Ukrainian cities

Speaking with DW's Phil Gayle, Zhovkva said Russia is now "combining its efforts when firing in the skies of Ukraine."  

He said Russia is using a multi-pronged approach of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, drones and balloons to wage attacks on Ukrainian cities.

He said Ukraine "should be smart understanding the level of ammunition we have" in responding to the attacks.

"Currently we are intercepting about 75%, 80% of the missiles or drones or any other things," Zhovkva said. "It could be better, provided that we had already, as of now, the desired amount of air defense and anti-missile systems." 

He reiterated Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's calls for fighter jets amid the air attacks. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has recently said that supplying Kyiv with jets was not the top priority, but it's an option that would be discussed.  

Zhovkva noted that the jets are not only for "protecting the sky" but they could also be "very effective in intercepting the missiles we were talking about with you before."

Weapons delays are 'a matter of life for our country'

Zhovkva said indecision and delays over weapons have consequences for both Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. He said Russia is constantly using more missiles, artillery and manpower in its attacks.

Germany, for example, was recently skeptical of sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, fearing further escalation and a direct conflict between Russia and NATO. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government later reversed course and promised the tanks to Ukraine 

"No delays are possible now because, yes, it's a matter of life for our country and our people," Zhovkva said of weapons promises to Kyiv.  

He said Ukrainian forces "are more than ready" if Russia launches a major offensive for the spring, while calling it "destined to fail."

Zhovkva said victory for Ukraine entails liberating "all the territory of Ukraine as of 24th of August 1991." Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union on that date. 

The Ukrainian official said Crimea must be taken back from Russia, after the Kremlin ordered the annexation of the peninsula in 2014. He disagreed with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's comments that taking back Crimea could provoke Russia, while saying "we should not listen to any ultimatums or red lines or desires from an aggressor."

Interview conducted by DW's Phil Gayle

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier