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Letter from Moscow: When war suddenly explodes over your roof
- Deep Read ( 3 Min. )
- By Fred Weir Special correspondent
May 30, 2023 | RAZDORY, Russia
A sudden series of powerful atmospheric explosions erupted this morning right above the small village a few miles outside Moscow where I have lived for over 20 years. It was immediately clear that this was the sound of war raging – directly around our village.
The many deafening bangs that rattled us this morning were made by numerous anti-aircraft missiles attempting to intercept Ukrainian drones coming in at very low levels and aimed at Moscow. A few of them reportedly got through, causing minor damage and a couple of noncritical casualties in the huge city.
Why We Wrote This
In Moscow, it can be easy to ignore the devastating but faraway war in Ukraine. But that changes quickly when drones and anti-aircraft missiles start exploding in the skies overhead one morning.
But according to our local Telegram chat group, at least one was shot down nearby, and several fragments of what are probably Russian air defense missiles fell down inside the village itself.
Today’s drone strike has brought the war home to Russians in a fresh and unexpected way. What will be the effect of that? Militarily, the attack was little more than a nuisance, so its intent must have been psychological. It’s never easy to read Russians, and they are famously tough and resilient. There’s certainly no sign of panic.
But the war came to Moscow today. And I, for one, felt I understood a bit better what Ukrainians are going through.
It’s been frustrating to report from Russia over the past 16 months, when the story has largely been one of prevailing calm, quiet, and outright normalcy, even as an unthinkably destructive conflict rages not too far away in neighboring Ukraine. Most conversations with people around here tend to be about the weather, sports, local politics. Hardly anyone ever talks about the war.
All that changed rather abruptly early this morning.
A sudden series of powerful atmospheric explosions tore away any semblance of sleep, routine, peace – seemingly erupting right above our heads in the small village a few miles from the Moscow city limits where I have lived for over 20 years. They continued sporadically for half an hour, sometimes very close, sometimes a more distant rumbling.
Had this occurred a couple of years ago it might have been difficult to even guess what was happening, but now it was immediately clear that this was the sound of war raging – directly around our village.
Razdory is just a few miles to the west of Moscow, on the path that armed drones fired from Ukraine would follow in an attack on Russia’s capital. It’s also an area where a good deal of Russia’s top elite, including President Vladimir Putin, live. And – I never knew this – it’s apparently very well defended.
The many deafening bangs that rattled us this morning were made by numerous anti-aircraft missiles attempting to intercept at least eight – some reports suggest up to 32 – Ukrainian drones coming in at very low levels and aimed at Moscow. A few of them reportedly got through, causing minor damage and a couple of noncritical casualties in a few parts of the huge city.
But according to our local, very lively Telegram chat group, at least one was shot down nearby, and several fragments of what are probably Russian air defense missiles fell down inside the village itself.
Well, at least now people are talking about the war. The local chat group is alive with questions: Why doesn’t our village have an air alert system? How do we know when it’s safe to go outside? What is best to do when something is happening, go to the basement?
It’s all quite sudden, extremely jolting, and totally new.
The manager of our village co-op, an unflappable fellow whose name I won’t mention, posted a message of vigilance on the chat channel.
“Dear residents, it is necessary to inspect the surrounding area for damage to buildings, infrastructure, and other property. If some objects are detected, do not approach or touch them with your hands and immediately call the police!!! We are monitoring the territory, but not everything can be seen at once, and we need your help. ...
“The situation is very serious. Maybe now many people will wake up and realize that the fighting is going on, much closer than we thought, and that things will not be the same in the near future. Stay alert and take care of yourself.”
It’s astounding that no one seems to have predicted this. It’s been more than a year, and the nightly news has reported one unpleasant surprise after another to Russian audiences. Earlier this month two Ukrainian drones actually hit the Kremlin, one of them crashing directly onto the dome of the Senate Palace, where Mr. Putin’s office is located.
And, of course, Russian forces have been pounding Ukrainian cities from the air since the beginning of what they still call the “special military operation,” including more than two weeks of ongoing missile and drone barrages against Kyiv. All of that is thoroughly reported in the Russian media, as is all the chatter about Ukraine’s upcoming military counteroffensive. So, it’s not as if people didn’t know.
But today’s drone strike has brought the war home to Russians in a fresh and unexpected way. What will be the effect of that? Militarily, the attack was little more than a nuisance, so its intent must have been psychological. It’s never easy to read Russians, and they are famously tough and resilient. There’s certainly no sign of panic around here.
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Russians Evacuated as 'Swarm of Drones' Reported Heading Towards Moscow
Russians were evacuated from their workplaces in Moscow's city center on Friday as reports circulated that a "swarm of drones" was headed towards the capital from the nearby city of Serpukhov, according to local media.
"A group of drones is heading towards Moscow," Maria Drutska, who works in Ukraine's foreign affairs sector, said in a post on X, formerly Twitter while sharing a video of the incident. "In Serpukhov, a group of UAVs preliminarily heading towards Moscow has just been filmed."
Local news outlet MSK1 reported that several Moscow city office blocks were evacuated due to a false report of a drone strike. It cited the Russian Telegram channel Baza as saying that some 2,000 people had been asked to evacuate. Other footage circulating online showed several fire trucks parked on a roadside.
According to the Russian Telegram channel SHOT, reports of a "swarm of drones" attack on Moscow turned out to be false. It said the objects were "light aircraft," not drones.
Newsweek reached out to Russia's Foreign Ministry via email for comment. The Kremlin has not commented on the situation.
The incident comes after a number of recent drone attacks on Russia's capital. Ukraine hasn't claimed responsibility for the attacks, in line with its policy of distancing itself from strikes on Russian soil.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that on Thursday night, air defense forces shot down a drone in the capital. The incident prompted authorities to suspend air traffic at four Moscow airports: Vnukovo, Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo and Zhukovsky.
A GROUP OF DRONES IS HEADING TOWARDS MOSCOW In Serpukhov, a group of UAVs preliminarily heading towards Moscow has just been filmed pic.twitter.com/hentXpRSWi — Maria Drutska 🇺🇦 (@maria_drutska) August 18, 2023
The drone hit a non-residential building of Moscow's Expo Center complex in the city center in the early hours of Friday, causing a huge explosion, according to local media reports. The Russian Defense Ministry said there were no casualties.
"At about 4 a.m. Moscow time, the Kyiv regime launched another terrorist attack using an unmanned aerial vehicle on objects located in Moscow and the Moscow region," the Defense Ministry said.
Kyiv hasn't claimed responsibility.
Update 08/18/23, 8:48 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information.
Do you have a tip on a world news story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about the Russia-Ukraine war? Let us know via [email protected].
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Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.
About the writer
Isabel van Brugen is a Newsweek Reporter based in Kuala Lumpur. Her current focus is on the Russia-Ukraine war, and she has covered human rights issues in previous roles. Isabel joined Newsweek in 2021 and had previously worked with news outlets including the Daily Express, The Times, Harper's BAZAAR, and Grazia. She has an MA in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London, and a BA in Russian language at QMUL. Languages: English, Russian
You can get in touch with Isabel by emailing [email protected] Twitter handle: @isabelvanbrugen
To read how Newsweek uses AI as a newsroom tool, Click here.
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