Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv Launches Massive Drone Attack On Russia

Ukraine launched a large-scale, long-range drone attack against oil infrastructure within Russia’s borders. Sevastopol, home of the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, in the Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula, was also targeted. The attacks come a day after it was confirmed that Ukraine had destroyed several Russian combat aircraft in a missile strike on Crimea’s Belbek Air Base, as you can read about here.

While the exact numbers cannot be independently verified, this appears to be the largest-ever coordinated drone assault on Russia by Ukraine.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed its air defenses downed 51 Ukrainian drones over Crimea, another 44 over the Krasnodar region, and six over the Belgorod region. There were no casualties reported, according to a statement from Moscow.

Based on social media imagery and accounts, it appears that the Tuapse oil refinery in the southern region of Krasnodar was badly hit. Videos show Ukrainian drones smashing into the refinery, after which a major fire breaks out. Tuapse is Russian oil giant Rosneft’s fourth-largest refinery.

Assessing the available videos, among the long-range attack drones used in this raid was the Lyutyy, a Ukrainian design with a twin-boom tail arrangement that bears a superficial resemblance to the Turkish Bayraktar TB2.

Local authorities confirmed the strike on the Tuapse plant, saying “as a result of the fall” of one of the two drones, “an explosion occurred on the territory of the refinery.”

Fires also broke out in the Black Sea port city of Novorossiysk, to the northwest of Tuapse, where fuel depots came under attack.

Videos shared on social media showed what appeared to be burning fuel depots at the port’s main railway terminal and there were reports of Ukrainian drones hitting the Importpischeprom oil products terminal and Sheskharis oil harbor.

The port was shut soon after the attack, but later resumed oil loadings from Sheskharis oil harbor and fuel oil terminal, according to industry sources, Reuters reported.

Oil products loadings from Importpischeprom oil products terminal in Novorossiisk are still suspended, the sources added.

Additional videos that appeared throughout today suggest that the attacks continued as day broke over the coastal city.

Astra, a Russian Telegram news channel, reported further Ukrainian attacks this morning in areas close to Novorossiysk. Targets reportedly included a Gazprom oil depot in the village of Kirilovka and the Transneft-owned oil depot in Grushovaya Balka.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea led to power outages in Sevastopol, local authorities admitted.

Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of Sevastopol, said the drone attack damaged the city’s power plant and that it may take a day to fully restore energy supplies to all parts of the city.

“Communal services are doing their best to restore the power system as quickly as possible,” he said in a statement. Razvozhayev also announced that schools in the city would be closed temporarily.

The defense ministry also said that Russian aircraft and patrol boats destroyed six maritime drones in the Black Sea, according to a report from AP. This indicates that the attack was a multi-pronged effort, involving not only one-way aerial attack drones but also uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) and potentially also uncrewed underwater vessels (UUVs) of the kind that have been repeatedly employed against the Black Sea Fleet.

At least one video shows the purported destruction of a Ukrainian USV by a Russian military Mi-35 Hind helicopter, using its 23mm twin-barrel nose cannon to engage the target during daytime. Russian rotorcraft have been used for hunting these drones in the past.

At this point, there is no evidence of Russian Navy vessels or other infrastructure being hit.

While Ukrainian drone attacks are nothing new, the scale of the latest barrage suggests that Kyiv is looking to escalate its campaign against Russian oil infrastructure in particular, hitting Moscow where it hurts economically.

This also comes as Kyiv struggles to hold off Russia’s recently launched offensive in the northeast Kharkiv region. By launching drone strikes, Ukraine once again appears to be looking for alternative means to strike back at Russia, as its troops remain outnumbered and outgunned on the battlefield.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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On the battlefield, meanwhile, the Kharkiv region is commanding attention, as the focus of Russia’s new offensive.

Ukrainian officials have struck a more upbeat note about the situation in the region, which borders Russia.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said today the situation in the Kharkiv region has “stabilized” — despite reports that Russian forces have advanced as far as 6.2 miles into Ukrainian territory in one area.

“Today, our defense forces have stabilized the Russians where they are now. The deepest point of their advance is 10 kilometers,” Zelensky told journalists.

According to analysis from U.S. think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), between 9 and 15 May, Russia seized 107 square miles of Ukrainian territory in the Kharkiv region. If correct, this would be the largest territorial gain in a single Russian operation since mid-December 2022.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s army chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said today that Russian forces have expanded the area of active combat by almost 45 miles by launching their offensive in the Kharkiv region. Syrskyi claims Russia launched the offensive to force Ukraine to commit additional reserve brigades into the fighting. He added his troops are also preparing to defend against a new offensive in the northern region of Sumy.

Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, told The New York Times: “The situation is on the edge” and that he also expected Russia to launch a new attack in the Sumy region. “I’ve used everything we have,” Budanov added. “Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone else in the reserves.“

There are questions, though, about the degree to which Moscow will be able to build on the gains achieved in the Kharkiv region.

Christopher Cavoli, Commander, U.S. European Command, and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) said yesterday: “I’ve been in very close contact with our Ukrainian colleagues and I’m confident that they will hold the line.”

“More to the point [the Russians] don’t have the skill and the ability to do it,” Cavoli added.

As well as insufficient Russian forces on the ground for a major breakthrough, Cavoli notes that the Ukrainian military was right now “being shipped vast amounts of ammunition, vast amounts of short-range air defense systems, and significant amounts of armored vehicles.”

It’s clear that more is needed, however, if Ukraine is to prevent more territorial losses.

Pointing to the Russian advances made in the region, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock today called for Ukraine to be given weapons “that can be used over medium and long distances.” She noted that these were necessary to blunt the Russian advance in the northeast as well as to cut off Russian supply routes.

“We are also working with other partners on this.” Overall, it is an “extremely difficult situation,” she added.

Previously, Germany has resisted calls for it to supply Ukraine with long-range Taurus KEPD 350 air-launched cruise missiles, which provide similar capabilities to the Storm Shadow and SCALP EG weapons that have been provided by other European allies.

As to the specific threats facing Ukrainian forces on the battlefield in the Kharkiv region, George Barros, an analyst with the ISW, referenced Russia’s ability to strike defensive lines close to the border with relative impunity.

“It’s suicidal for Ukraine to have its main line of defense on the border, where the Russians can hit you with artillery and glide bombs and the Ukrainians don’t have weapons available like HIMARS rocket artillery to hit back because of U.S. restrictions,” Barros said.

Barros added that this was the reason why, despite full knowledge that a new offensive in the region was looking, Russia was able to mass its forces across the border in relatively safety, before pushing through into a lightly populated “gray zone” of Ukraine.

Another key concern of Ukrainian defenders in the region is Russia’s Lancet loitering munition, according to a recent Reuters report, which cites the commander of an artillery battery of the Ukrainian 42nd Brigade.

“One comes, then a second one comes, 10 minutes later a third one comes,” said the commander, who uses the callsign “Artist.”

According to the crew operating a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer with the 42nd Brigade, the number of Lancets being used is greater than they have seen in the past, even in some of the heaviest fighting to date.

In related news, reports are emerging now that Ukrainian troops may have been let down by the Starlink terminals, which are said to have been interfered with by Russian forces on the day they launched their offensive in the Kharkiv region. An article in The Washington Post claims that the terminals “were completely out of order for the first time” on the morning of May 10 and that vital communication with drones “simply disappeared,” with all video channels being lost.

For civilians in the region, the picture is also bleak, with thousands having had to evacuate their homes. Others have been killed by Russian fire or have been held as ‘human shields,’ according to Ukrainian officials.

“According to operational information, the Russian military, trying to gain a foothold in the city, did not allow local residents to evacuate,” said Ukrainian Interior Minister Igor Klymenko. “They began abducting people and driving them to basements.”

Around 35 to 40 people are said to have been captured in this way in the border town of Vovchansk, which has been a focus of the Russian advance.

Sergiy Bolvinov, head of the Kharkiv region’s police investigation department added: “The Russians keep them in one place and actually use them as a human shield, as their command headquarters is nearby.”

Ukraine has been under Russian drone attack, too, with Kharkiv being among the regions targeted.

According to the Ukrainian military, its air defenses shot down all 20 drones Russia dispatched in an overnight attack. The drones were shot down over the regions of Kharkiv, Poltava, Vinnytsia, Odesa, and Mykolaiv, Reuters reported.

Kharkiv city mayor Ihor Terekhov reported four explosions during the attack, writing on the Telegram messaging app that one of the strikes caused a fire. The attack damaged five buildings, one of them belonging to the district administration, Kharkiv’s regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, said on Telegram.

Nevertheless, at this point, Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that Russia doesn’t currently plan to capture the city of Kharkiv, the second largest in Ukraine.

Speaking at a conference in China, Putin reiterated that Russian forces operating in the Kharkiv region were intent on creating a “buffer zone” to protect Russia’s own territory against attack.

Outside of the Kharkiv region, Russian forces are also making progress in the southeast of the country, the Kremlin claims. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the entire town of Robotyne, as well as its outlying areas, are now under Russian control. Located in the Zaporizhzhia region in the southeast, Robotyne has seen heavy fighting for some months now. Back in February, Russia began a new offensive operation and entered central Robotyne.

For months now, we have brought news of Ukraine’s increasingly acute shortage of vital artillery ammunition. Now, according to President Zelensky, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have enough artillery shells, for the first time during the war. “None of the brigades complains that there are no shells,” Zelensky told reporters yesterday. “And this has been happening for the past two months.”

The new situation has been brought about by various ongoing initiatives designed to put more ammunition into Ukrainian hands. This includes a Czech-led effort to buy shells for Ukraine and which identified 500,000 155mm shells and 300,000 122mm shells outside that would be suitable for Ukraine, provided the necessary funds were made available.

The U.S. State Department confirmed yesterday that its policy on Ukraine using long-range weapons it supplies on Russian territory has not changed.

In recent days, the words of some officials have suggested that the existing policy might have been relaxed, which would allow Ukraine to use weapons such as the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a short-range ballistic missile, to hit targets within Russia.

At a briefing, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said: “We haven’t changed our position. We believe that the equipment, the capabilities that we are giving Ukraine, that other countries are giving to Ukraine should be used to take back Ukrainian sovereign territory.” She then added “And we believe that is within Ukrainian territory.”

Earlier this month, U.K. Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said it was up to Ukraine to decide how to use British weapons and insisted it has the right to strike targets on Russian territory.

The Danish Ministry of Defense has announced a new massive military aid package for Ukraine, worth $816 million. While most of the money will go toward procuring and maintaining air defense and artillery systems, some of the funds will also go toward F-16s destined for Ukraine.

Ukraine’s F-16s are expected to begin arriving in the summer. Dozens of the fighters have been pledged to Ukraine by a coalition that includes Denmark as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway.

Ukraine was recently responsible for the first-ever train derailment by drone attack, according to a report in Forbes.

The drone strike, earlier this week, derailed a Russian freight train, leaving a tank car in flames, somewhere in the Volgograd region.

While Russia’s railway network, which plays a vital logistics role in the war effort, has been repeatedly targeted by Ukraine, this appears to have been the first time that a drone was successfully used.

One of the more rarely seen ground-based air defense systems in the Ukraine war is the Cold War-era S-300V, seen here in Russian hands.

Two primary types of missiles are provided as armament: the 9M83 (SA-12A Gladiator) with a maximum engagement range of around 47 miles and the 9M82 (SA-12B Giant) that can engage targets out to 62 miles.

In this video, the launcher fires a 9M82 missile, which also has an anti-ballistic missile capability.

Another infrequently seen missile is the British-supplied Brimstone, used in a surface-to-surface capacity by Ukraine. Fitted to a mobile launcher, the Ukrainian system appears to use the same three-round pylon that arms the U.K. Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter.

As we have described in the past, Brimstone has a range of between 5 and 12 miles, with the lower end of that spectrum being most likely for ground-launched applications. Its guidance system is designed to be all-weather, day-and-night capable through the use of an active millimetric-wave radar seeker. Brimstone is capable of salvo attacks and autonomously finding targets once it reaches a designated target area. This makes it ideal for taking out armor, artillery, and boat formations.

An interesting photo appears to indicate that Ukraine has got its hands on a new batch of 9M79 short-range ballistic missiles to arm its Tochka (SS-21 Scarab) system. While there has been speculation that a non-Ukrainian source may have provided additional 9M79 rounds, as the following tweet suggests, these missiles are perhaps more likely to have come from outdated Soviet-era stocks that are now being tapped into and refurbished.

A number of Russian aircraft were shot down last May over their own territory by a foreign-supplied Patriot air defense system. It has now been suggested that the ambush resulted in tensions between Kyiv and Berlin, since the Patriot system involved was provided by Germany.

More new equipment headed to Ukraine will include six examples of the AMBER-1800 air surveillance radar. These will be provided to Kyiv by Lithuania, as part of a German air defense initiative that is calling on governments to find and finance more air defense systems for Ukraine to protect its critical infrastructure. Produced in Lithuania, the AMBER-1800 is a mobile VHF-band radar that detects air targets, determines their coordinates, and provides radar information to other air defense units.

A new photo has appeared providing another more detailed look at the wreckage of a Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessel (USV) armed with an R-73 (AA-11 Archer) heat-seeking air-to-air missile. As we discussed in our previous article, the adaptation seems to have been made to provide the drone boats with protection against the Russian helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that are increasingly being used to counter them.

There has been no shortage of videos from the battlefield showing the devastating effects of ammunition cooking off in a variety of vehicles after they come under attack. Less commonly seen in this type of footage is the relatively modern 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled artillery piece. The main gun fires a high-explosive/fragmentation round to a distance of 15 miles, or a base-bleed type to 18 miles, as well as sub-munitions, electronic warfare jamming and smoke rounds, and the Krasnopol laser-guided projectile. In total, 50 rounds of ammunition are carried and the ferocity of the explosion suggests that most of these might have been loaded when this example came under attack.

A regular feature of our Situation Report is a selection of videos that bring home the developments as regards first-person-view (FPV) drones on the Ukrainian battlefield.

In one interesting interview, a Russian FPV drone pilot told Russian TV that only between 10 and 15 percent of the drones that his unit receives are being delivered directly by the Russian Ministry of Defense. For the others, he and his fellow soldiers have to rely on FPV drones provided by various volunteer organizations and tech startups. As a result, the number of drones being received is limited, although Russia nonetheless has many more of these drones available than Ukraine, which has launched various efforts to try and address the imbalance.

The following drone video shows how a Ukrainian FPV drone strike played out when directed against seven Russian soldiers on a boat. The location is unspecified but is likely somewhere on the inland waterways connected with the Dniepr River. Here, small vessels continue to be prime targets for Russian and Ukrainian one-way attack drones.

This video reveals again some of the measures that Russia has adopted to protect its tanks, specifically one of the more modern T-90M. The tank is fitted with a roof screen and an electronic warfare jammer, but these are not enough to protect it from a drone-dropped grenade, purportedly delivered by Ukraine’s Shadow unit. As we have reported in the past, the T-90M — also known as the Proryv-3 (Breakthrough-3) — is the most technologically advanced and capable main battle tank to have been used by Russia in Ukraine. 

Another Russian tank falls victim to a precisely delivered Ukrainian FPV drone in this next video. The tank, a T-80BVM, is rapidly destroyed.

With Russia incorporating an ever-greater number of foreign fighters into its ranks in Ukraine, from a growing number of countries, the issue of communication between soldiers and units is also becoming more complex.

An unconfirmed account paints a picture of the difficulty faced by Russian soldiers and Nepalese volunteers/mercenaries on the frontline in Ukraine. The solution allegedly involved telling the Nepalese that the “Ukrainians are in the north, fire there. Russia is in the south, don’t shoot there.”

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.