Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv Claims Six Russian Jets Downed In Three Days

Ukrainian military officials say that their forces shot down six Russian fighter aircraft in the last three days. While these claims cannot currently be confirmed, it’s significant that Russian military bloggers have also reported at least some of the losses on their own channels. Moreover, the incidents point to the continued vulnerability of Russian tactical aircraft, which have fallen steadily to Ukrainian air defenses as well as to friendly fire.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, wrote on the Telegram messaging app today that Kyiv’s forces had destroyed a Su-34 Fullback fighter-bomber and a Su-35 Flanker multirole fighter. Syrskyi noted that these aircraft had been dropping highly destructive precision-guided glide bombs on Ukrainian positions.

The latest Russian losses were reportedly in the “eastern sector.”

“In just three days, the enemy lost six aircraft,” Oleksandr Pavliuk, Ukraine’s new ground forces chief, said on Telegram, a claim repeated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ official account on X.

These statements were referring to the three more Su-34s and one Su-35 that Ukraine said it shot down over the weekend, this time apparently in the Mariupol area.

Russian officials have not commented on the reported downing of any of these aircraft and the claims remain unverified by independent sources.

However, it is notable that some of the claims have been referenced by Russian military bloggers.

On Telegram, Russian milblogger Romanov described today’s Su-34 claim as “bullshit.” However, he continued: “Regarding the Su-35, there is no good news. And again, the question is open — who shot it down?”

Footage has also appeared that purportedly shows a Russian Mi-8 Hip helicopter involved in the search and rescue effort for the Su-35 pilot, over the Sea of Azov.

The Russia Fighterbomber channel meanwhile posted a photo of a Su-35, accompanied by a poem, strongly pointing to the fact that the aircraft was indeed shot down.

As for this weekend’s claims, a photo has appeared on social media that appears to confirm the loss of the Su-35, at least. This photo is said to show the pilot of the fighter, together with their parachute, after they were retrieved by a Mi-24 Hind combat search and rescue helicopter. This same claim has also been relayed by other Russian milbloggers.

While some Russian accounts have said that the Su-35 loss reported today was the result of friendly fire, it’s meanwhile clear that thanks to the Patriot air defense system, in particular, paired with untraditional tactics, Ukraine is increasingly able to target Russian aircraft, even at very long ranges.

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, the weekend’s major development was the fall of the city of Avdiivka to Russian forces. After months of fierce fighting and staggering attrition, Ukrainian troops retreated from the city, in the eastern Donetsk region, leaving Moscow with its biggest war prize since the capture of Bakhmut last May.

Today, Russian state news said that Moscow’s forces had taken control of the coking coal plant in Avdiivka, which had been one of the last pockets of Ukrainian resistance in the area. The video below purports to show the raising of the Russian flag over one of the buildings at the plant.

An idea of the kinds of challenges faced by some of the Ukrainian fighters in and around Avdiivka is provided in the following account, posted to social media, reportedly by a soldier serving with the 110th Mechanized Brigade, who is said to have seen action in the Zenit pocket south of Avdiivka. He paints a bleak picture that includes heavy attrition as well as a lack of rotation of soldiers, due to shortages in troop numbers. The problem of health issues is also exacerbated by the average age of the soldiers in his unit, said to be between 40 and 45.

There are now reports of Russian forces launching multiple attacks to the west of Avdiivka, to capitalize on their gains.

“The enemy is trying to actively develop its offensive,” said Dmytro Lykhoviy, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Ground Forces commander in the area. “But our considerable forces are entrenched there,” Lykhoviy said.

In its latest assessment, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank states that the Russian offensive around Avdiivka is now likely reaching the end of its potential, with Ukrainian forces now withdrawing to prepared lines of defense not far from the city. Exactly how strong these Ukrainian positions are remains open to debate, the ISW asserts.

Ukraine’s general staff reports failed Russian attacks on the village of Lastochkyne, around one mile to the west of Avdiivka’s northern edge.

Russia also now appears to be ramping up the pressure on the southern Zaporizhzhia region, where Ukrainian troops are facing “heavy fire,” a Ukrainian Armed Forces spokesperson told AFP.

Senior Ukrainian commander Oleksandr Tarnavsky said today that Russia is launching multiple attacks near the village of Robotyne, where Kyiv’s forces regained ground during last year’s counteroffensive. Since then, the village has been pounded by artillery fire.

“The situation is dynamic here, the enemy is inflicting heavy fire,” Tarnavsky told Ukrainian state TV. The commander added that an attack by Russian armored vehicles at the weekend was repelled. Russian forces then began trying to advance “with small assault groups, supported by armored vehicles.”

Ukrainian Ground Forces’ spokesperson Dmytro Lykhoviy said that Russian attacks had been repelled in Robotyne as well as in the village of Verbove, also in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Lykhoviy said that it would be “very difficult” for Russia to achieve breakthroughs here, thanks to a combination of fortified Ukrainian defensive lines and the local terrain. “The situation in the Zaporizhzhia sector is stable … No positions have been lost. The enemy was kicked in the teeth and retreated.”

The U.S. Air National Guard, currently engaged in training the first cadre of Ukrainian Air Force F-16 pilots, says that these airmen are already “flying F-16s solo every day.” The plan is for these initial pilots to graduate from training in May, after which they will be able to carry out a “full range of missions,” the Giard said, in a statement reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine.

While Ukraine is still waiting for its own F-16 fighters, drone troops have come up with ‘the next best thing,’ specifically a PG-7M/S high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead from a rocket-propelled grenade carried by a quadcopter-type drone.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that Ukraine poisoned two Moscow-installed governors in occupied parts of their country, in failed assassination attempts.

According to the Russian military, the governors of the Kherson and Luhansk regions were both “severely poisoned with phenolic compounds” but survived.

In an online briefing, Moscow said that the governor of Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, was poisoned in August 2022, while Luhansk governor Leonid Pasechnik was poisoned in December 2023.

The regions of Kherson and Luhansk were among four Ukrainian provinces that Russia declared it had annexed in September 2022, despite not having full control over any of them.

While it had been previously reported that Saldo had been taken ill, it had not been stated that he was the victim of deliberate poisoning. Seemingly fully recovered, Saldo now conducts regular duties in Kherson.

Pasechnik’s alleged poisoning had not been previously reported. He was seen at a press conference in Moscow on December 11, less than a week after it supposedly ocurred .

While the veracity of the Russian Ministry of Defense claims should be questioned, it’s no secret by now that numerous Moscow-installed officials have been the targets of different kinds of Ukrainian assassination attempts since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In August last year, we reported on the extraordinary story of the apparent defection to Ukraine by a Russian Aerospace Forces Mi-8AMTSh Hip combat transport helicopter, in what was claimed to have been a long-planned Ukrainian intelligence operation. The helicopter was also said to be carrying undisclosed parts for Su-27 and Su-30SM Flanker fighters, which were being transported between two airbases.

Now, Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) says that the defecting pilot, Maxim Kuzminov, is dead.

Andriy Yusov, a GUR representative, told Kyiv Post that Kuzminov was found dead in Spain, where he had apparently relocated after leaving Ukraine. The cause of death was not specified, but there are unconfirmed reports that he was shot dead on February 13.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the Kharkiv region today. Photos published on his official account on X showed him at a battalion command post belonging to the 14th Mechanized Brigade, which is involved in the defense of Kupyansk.

While key Republicans are still blocking U.S. military aid to Ukraine, there are reports that Washington is still seeking to provide Kyiv with a longer-range version of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) that has already been used by Ukraine to devastating effect.

According to a report from NBC News, citing two U.S. officials, the Biden administration is looking to supply Ukraine with longer-range ATACMS variants able to hit targets at up to 186 miles, to complement those already sent, which are capable of hitting objectives at roughly 100 miles.

Defense officials told NBC News that the United States is unlikely to send these missiles to Ukraine without first securing funds to replenish U.S. stockpiles, which currently have only a limited supply of ATACMS.

One reported option to get the missiles to Ukraine would be to request U.S. allies to provide the missiles to Ukraine, before backfilling their own stockpiles.

Some new imagery has appeared showing the widely used Russian UMPK, or Unifitsirovannyi Modul Planirovaniya i Korrektsii, meaning unified gliding and correction module. Comprising a wing and guidance kit fitted to a freefall bomb, the weapon has become a major concern for Ukraine.

The following screencaps from a Russian Ministry of Defense video show UMPK kits mated to 1,102-pound FAB-500M-62 bombs under the wing of a Su-34 fighter-bomber at the airbase of Voronezh-Baltimor.

The following video provides us with our latest glimpse of the U.S.-supplied M1 Abrams tank in Ukrainian service. Washington has committed to sending 31 of the M1A1 versions of the Abrams to Ukraine, with the first examples confirmed as having arrived in the country last September. Since then, however, the tanks have been seen in action only infrequently.

With Ukraine’s lack of ammunition for the ongoing conflict still a major concern, Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, has hit out at European colleagues for failing to deliver the weapons that Kyiv needs.

Speaking at a summit of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, Landsbergis said it was a “miracle that [Ukraine] has been able to withstand so far,” given what he described as a “6:1” advantage for Russia in terms of ammunition.

“We spent two years discussing; trying to figure out the way that we can help Ukraine bit by bit,” Landsbergis said. “Unfortunately, since we did not formulate a strategic goal for what we are trying to achieve, we’re unable to declare that we’re in this for the victory.”

Landsbergis continued:

“The risk of war is not contained. And that is that the skeptical Russians are continuing and we’re continuing debating. I said that the main problem from the very onset of the war is that here in the West we could not; we were not able to formulate a goal of what we want to achieve.”

Currently, the European Union is still debating the provision of military funds worth €5 billion (roughly $5.4 billion) a year for Ukraine.

To finish the latest round-up from Ukraine, check out this collapsible remote-controlled transporter, essentially a wheeled, powered stretcher designed to move casualties from the battlefield. This is by no means the first attempt to harness robotics and autonomous systems for casualty evacuation (CASEVAC), with previous efforts from both Western defense manufacturers and also from Russia.

Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com