KYIV, Ukraine — A bright flash and a streak of burning debris in the sky illuminated streets in the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday night, alarming residents and prompting authorities to activate the city’s air raid alarms.
Within hours, the city’s military administration said the cause was a satellite plunging from orbit, while Ukraine’s Air Force issued a statement blaming a falling satellite or a meteor. “At the current time there is no risk of the enemy using air attack weapons,” it said.
In any case, the object came to Earth over a city already on edge after months of Russian missile attacks.
The flash had set off speculation among the public and officials that a NASA spacecraft that was expected to re-enter the atmosphere sometime Wednesday evening had caused the flash. The craft had collected data from solar flares, and most of it was expected to incinerate on re-entry.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, the re-entry was not expected until hours after the flash over Kyiv. Confusingly for residents of the capital, the object exploded in the sky as a genuine Russian attack with exploding drones was targeting other cities in Ukraine.
Air alerts were in effect in the country’s central and eastern regions. The Air Force said it had shot down about 10 Iranian-made exploding drones in southeastern Ukraine around the same time as the flash over Kyiv.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, had posted on social media that air defenses were firing in Kyiv and joked that the flash was not a “U.F.O.” but then wrote that the Air Force would provide an update on the cause of the mysterious light.
And before pointing the finger at a falling satellite, the Kyiv military administration issued a warning that “airborne targets have been detected in the sky” and said air defense forces were on alert. The air raid alert was in effect for about an hour in Kyiv after the flash before an all clear was announced.