Ukraine’s air defenders claim two major firsts, but missiles evading interception kill 7

 Ukrainian air defenders said they made major gains on Friday morning: they shot down a Russian Tu22M3 strategic bomber and hit two Kh-22 hypersonic cruise missiles in flight.

News of the pioneering aerial interceptions will be a boost for the Ukrainian military, which has been struggling to keep up with Russia's increasing use of missile and drone strikes in recent months, a notable development according to reports from the Dnipropetrovsk region, where officials said seven people were killed. They were killed, including two children, by the last Russian shot.

The Ukrainian Air Force said six Kh-22 missiles were fired overnight from Russian bombers flying over the Black Sea and the nearby Sea of Azov, out of a total of 22 missiles and 14 Shahed drones launched in total. A military source told CNN that the Patriot air defense system was responsible for the two successful intercepts of the Kh-22.

The missiles, originally designed to attack ships, can fly at speeds of up to 4,000 kilometers per hour (2,485 mph), making them particularly difficult to intercept. Russia has launched hundreds of them at Ukrainian targets since the start of the comprehensive invasion two years ago, according to Air Force information, and all of them have evaded air defense so far.

The US-designed Patriot system is a priority for Ukraine, which is believed to have only three such units, and Germany recently promised to create a fourth unit. President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to push for more such systems when he addresses NATO defense ministers in a virtual meeting later on Friday.

Contrary to Kh-22 interceptions, the Tu22M3 bomber was shot down by a Soviet-era S-200 air defense system, the Ukrainian military source told CNN.

The strategic bomber was attacked after launching missiles at Ukrainian targets, and was struck about 186 miles (300 kilometers) from Ukraine, according to a statement from defense intelligence in Kiev.

The plane fell over the Russian region of Stavropol, according to the statement, which is located east of the Black Sea. The statement described this as "the first successful destruction of a strategic bomber in the air during a combat mission since the comprehensive Russian invasion of Ukraine."

The Russian Defense Ministry said the accident occurred as a result of a “technical malfunction,” according to the TASS news agency. He added that three of the plane's passengers were rescued, while a fourth crew member is still missing.

Kiev has achieved other recent successes against larger Russian military aircraft, most notably downing two A-50 reconnaissance aircraft in separate attacks in January and February over the same area of the Black Sea.

In addition to the six Kh-22 missiles fired overnight, Russia fired 16 other missiles at Ukraine, including two Iskander K cruise missiles, as well as 14 Shahed drones. The Air Force said all but seven air attack weapons had been intercepted.

The main targets were in the Dnipropetrovsk region in the country's southeast, where authorities said seven people were killed.