KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- American-made Patriot missiles have arrived in Ukraine, the country's defense minister said Wednesday, providing Kyiv with a long-sought new shield against the Russian airstrikes that have devastated cities and civilian infrastructure.
The U.S. agreed in October to send the surface-to-air systems, which can target aircraft, cruise missiles and shorter-range ballistic missiles such as those that Russia has used to bombard residential areas and the Ukrainian power grid.
"Today, our beautiful Ukrainian sky becomes more secure," Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet.
The missiles are the latest contribution from Western allies, who have also pledged tanks, artillery and some types of fighter jets as Ukraine gears up for an expected counteroffensive.
Reznikov thanked the United States, Germany and the Netherlands, without saying how many missile systems had been delivered or when they arrived.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said late Tuesday that delivery of the systems would be a landmark event, allowing Ukrainians to knock out Russian targets at a greater distance.
Germany's federal government website on Tuesday listed a Patriot system as among the military items delivered within the past week to Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock confirmed that to lawmakers Wednesday in Berlin.
Germany has also delivered the second of four medium-range IRIS-T air defense systems that it pledged last year, Baerbock said.
Reznikov said he first asked for Patriot systems when visiting the U.S. in August 2021, five months before Russia's full-scale invasion and seven years after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. He described possessing the system as "a dream" but said he was told in the U.S. at the time that it was "impossible."
Ukrainian personnel have been trained on the Patriot battery, which requires up to 90 troops to operate and maintain it.
"Our air defenders have mastered (the Patriot systems) as far as they could. And our partners have kept their word," Reznikov wrote.
Experts have cautioned that the system's effectiveness is limited and that it may not significantly change the shape of the war, even though it will add to Ukraine's arsenal against its bigger enemy.
The Patriot was first deployed by the U.S. in the 1980s. The system costs approximately $4 million per missile, and the launchers cost about $10 million each, analysts say. At such a cost, it's not advantageous to use the Patriot to shoot down the smaller, cheaper Iranian drones that Russia has been buying and using in Ukraine.
In other developments Wednesday, China denied recent reports that Chinese drones have been found on Ukraine battlefields. China has insisted that it will not help arm Russia, one of its key allies.
The Chinese Commerce Ministry said in a statement that Beijing maintains strict control over the export of drones in keeping with international standards preventing them from being used for nonpeaceful purposes.
China, which has repeatedly criticized the U.S. and other countries' support for Ukraine as "adding fuel to the fire" of the war, has an "objective and fair stance" and seeks peace, the statement said.
Elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he recently visited Moscow-controlled parts of Ukraine's southern Kherson and easternmost Luhansk provinces.
"The purpose of the trip was to meet with the military, whom I did not want to distract for a long time and a long distance from the deployment of the units they command," he said.
Kyiv officials have reported daily civilian, but not military, casualties from Russian bombardment.
At least four civilians were killed and 27 others were wounded Tuesday and overnight, Ukraine's defense ministry reported.
A 50-year-old man and 44-year-old woman were killed in a Russian airstrike on a border town in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said in televised remarks.
Russian forces launched 12 rocket, artillery, mortar, tank and drone attacks on Ukraine's southern Kherson region, killing one civilian at a market in the center of Kherson, the region's namesake capital, and a nearby school, Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said.
A woman was killed and another was wounded in northern Ukraine after Russian forces shelled the border village of Richki from multiple rocket launchers, the local military administration said.
Russian forces also fired exploding drones at Ukraine's southern Odesa region.