The Ukrainian military claimed early Tuesday to have shot down three Russian fighter jets and a cruise missile, an assertion that was backed up by several loud explosions in the night sky over Kyiv — and a sign that its air defense systems and air force are still functioning nearly two weeks into the war.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has issued increasingly urgent pleas for Western support for his country’s air defenses. Mr. Zelensky has asked Western countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, an idea rebuffed by NATO because it risked direct conflict with Russia.
The United States, however, has been coordinating a possible arrangement in which Eastern European countries would send Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine in exchange for American F-16s. Ukrainian pilots would not need additional training to fly the MiG aircraft, if they could be flown or trucked across the border into Ukraine.
Thick and low cloud cover over the northern parts of Ukraine in the early days of the war have limited the effectiveness of Russian bombing and air support for troops on the ground. At the same time, Russia’s armored columns have slowed, apparently bogged down by a mix of logistical glitches and Ukrainian airstrikes, artillery attacks and ambushes using anti-tank missiles.
The prospect of clearing skies, and a possible Russian shift to using air power to compensate for the lack of progress on the ground, have given new urgency to Mr. Zelensky’s requests. That Ukraine’s air force has survived for two weeks is seen by Western military analysts as something of a success.
“We will close the sky ourselves,” the Ukrainian military said in a statement Tuesday morning about the downing of the Russian planes. “NATO is invited” to help, it added.
The military had said earlier that an antiaircraft missile shot down a Russian fighter jet over Kyiv, the capital, around 8:30 p.m. on Monday. In the city center around that time, air raid sirens wailed before a series of thunderous booms in the sky.
The Ukrainian military said that about half an hour later, one of its interceptor jets shot down a Russian fighter jet in aerial combat near the capital. Air-to-air combat has been exceedingly rare in modern war, with only a tiny number of incidents in decades — between Russia and Turkey in Syria and in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Another Ukrainian pilot shot down a cruise missile, the statement said.
Ukrainian military statements have typically included only scant information about failures and losses in the war, leaving it unclear how many of their own planes the Russian military has shot down or destroyed on the ground. News photographs from southern Ukraine have shown blown-up and burning Ukrainian radar installations.
An effort to evacuate thousands of people from Sumy, a city east of Kyiv that has been the scene of heavy fighting, got underway on Tuesday with the dispatch of a convoy of buses, led by the Red Cross and loaded with supplies. “Today, the humanitarian corridor for Sumy should start working,” said Iryna Vereshchuk, a government minister tasked with helping displaced people. While there was hope that people could start leaving in greater numbers from that city, which had a population of around 200,000 before the war, there was little sign that a broader evacuation effort for towns and cities farther east would materialize.