Ukraine Situation Report: Russian Su-34 Fullback Goes Down In Flames Over Donetsk

Ukraine says it shot down the Su-34 Fullback jet over Donetsk while Russian sources suggest it could have been downed by friendly fire.

byHoward Altman|
Su-34 Fullback shot down over Donetsk


Russia lost a Su-34 Fullback strike fighter Friday. That's something both sides agree on.

How it happened, however, is like so many things, in dispute as images emerged on social media of the aircraft crashing to the ground apparently after being hit by air defense munitions.

Ukraine claims it shot down the Fullback.

"On March 3, 2023, in the Yenakiyevo region, around 1:30 p.m., anti-aircraft gunners of the Nikopol anti-aircraft missile regiment of the "East" air command destroyed a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber," the Ukrainian Air Force said on its Telegram channel.

"One of the pilots died, the second is preparing to keep him company. It's been a long time since the anti-aircraft fighters of the Air Force were pleased with such a shot down target!"

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Col. Yuri Ignat told The War Zone Friday that the jet was taken down by a Ukrainian S-300 air defense system.

The Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group, however, said "preliminary information" indicated the jet was shot down by Russian friendly fire.

The Russian Defense Ministry has not yet commented. But the Russian Rybar Telegram channel, which said both pilots survived, initially surmised the jet was shot down by friendly Russian air defenses based on the location of the incident.

"Yenakiyevo is located in the rear, and the nearest possible positions of Ukrainian air defense systems are located at least 35 km away," Rybar wrote. "Therefore, with no small probability, the board became another victim of the 'friendly fire' of the Russian air defense."

Later, however, they suggested that a malfunction may have contributed to the crash of the Su-34 as well.

"Both pilots successfully ejected, taking the plane into the field to prevent casualties among the population," Rybar wrote. "The reason for the fall is not known for certain. It could be both a technical malfunction and 'friendly' air defense fire."

Video emerged of the aftermath of the crash, showing the jet's smoldering remains in a field.

Whatever the reason for the crash, the loss of the Fullback is a significant one for Russia. The Su-34 is one of its most capable combat aircraft, which you can read more about in our deep dive into the platform here.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

As Russian forces close in on the Donetsk coal-mining town of Bakhmut, video has emerged showing the intensity of the street fighting where troops from both sides are in close contact.

The Wagner mercenary group, which has done the bulk of the fighting, has suffered heavily as well.

The city has been mostly destroyed after months of fighting, which is evident in this drone footage.

Ukrainian forces have apparently blown up a railroad bridge in the city, a further sign that they are trying to consolidate their forces.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian field hospital in the city was apparently overrun by Russian forces.

But despite the danger, Ukrainian Col-Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of his nation's Eastern Group of Ground Forces, visited the embattled city for the second time in a week, according to the Ukrainian Ground Forces Telegram channel.

"The enemy does not give up hope of capturing Bakhmut and continues to accumulate forces to occupy the city," that channel reported.

"The Russian occupiers threw the most prepared units of the Wagner PvK and other regular units of the Russian Army at the capture of the city. Intense fighting is taking place in and around the city itself. In Bakhmut, the commander listened to the commanders' reports on the state of affairs in the subordinate units [and] got acquainted with problematic issues related to increasing the defense capability of our units on the front line."

In Crimea, meanwhile, the Russians are building large trenches as Ukrainian leaders continue to vow an eventual effort to liberate the peninsula occupied since 2014 by Russian forces.

Russia has also been building up fortifications elsewhere as well, ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian offensive.

The Pentagon today announced its 33rd Presidential Drawdown Authority package of aid for Ukraine. Valued at up to $400 million, the package includes more ammunition and support equipment for Ukraine’s precision fires, artillery, and armored vehicle operations.  

  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
  • Additional 155mm artillery rounds;
  • Additional 105mm artillery rounds;
  • Additional 25mm ammunition;
  • Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges;
  • Demolition munitions and equipment for obstacle clearing;
  • Testing and diagnostic equipment to support vehicle maintenance and repair;
  • Spare parts and other field equipment.

The Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges (AVLBs) are derived from the Cold War-era M60 Patton tank. They can deploy a folding bridge to help friendly forces, including tanks and other heavy armor, cross waterways and other obstacles like trench lines.

You can read more about them in our coverage here.

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After a meeting with Estonian President Egils Levits in Lviv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday repeated his frequent call for more arms.

"Artillery is number one. This is what we need. Ammunition, long-range rockets to stop Russia. Not to shoot at the territory of Russia, but to drive them out of our territory, which is fair," Zelensky told reporters.

He also emphasized again that Ukraine needs military aircraft and training for Ukrainian crews.

"Today we discussed where our partners from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia can help us in training missions. We need aircraft," said Zelensky.

With just a fraction of the 155mm artillery shells promised to Ukraine actually provided, Estonia's Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Reinsalu called for the immediate acceleration of the supply of artillery ammunition to Ukraine, according to Europeyska Pravda.

"Today we discussed Ukraine's need for projectiles," Reinsalu told reporters in Lviv Friday. "We are very grateful to all the countries that promised to provide projectiles, but the situation is such that when we talk about 155 mm projectiles, Ukraine has so far received only a sixth of what was promised," said Reinsalu.

On Monday, the defense ministers of several nations will discuss the creation of a joint procurement mechanism for the supply of one million rounds of 155 mm ammunition.

"And the key in this is the most intense possible actions," he added.

Germany has asked Switzerland to sell it some of its mothballed Leopard 2 tanks, the Swiss and German governments said on Friday, according to Reuters. Such a deal could allow Western countries to increase military aid to Ukraine.

"Germany wants Switzerland to sell some of the tanks back to arms maker Rheinmetall, which would allow the company to backfill gaps in the armaments of European Union and NATO members," according to Reuters.

Switzerland has 230 Leopard 2 tanks from the 1980s, of which only 134 are in service, according to Die Welt. The remaining 96 are mothballed. Germany now wants to buy back some of those in storage and make them available to Ukraine.

The first four of 14 Leopard 2 tanks promised by Poland arrived in Ukraine last week. Scores of others have been promised by several other nations.

Germany has also been training Ukrainian troops on how to operate the IRIS-T SLM air defense system it provided to Kyiv.

About 40 Ukrainians are taking a crash course on operating the system, Reuters reported Friday.

"Our main task is to learn as quickly as possible so we can get back and continue to fight," Myckhailo, a 45-year-old who has been a soldier for 27 years, told reporters Wednesday.

So far, one IRIS-T unit has already deployed in Ukraine, where officials have lauded its effectiveness.

"A few days ago, our air force commander said IRIS-T has hit 51 out of 51 targets, that's a 100% quota for Shahed drones and cruise missiles," 36 year-old Anatolii told Reuters, adding Kyiv needed at least 12 of the systems.

Berlin has promised to send four systems in total, with the second due to arrive within weeks - two years before Germany's own air force can expect its first.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Ukrainian troops have been trained so far in the U.K. as part of a U.K.-led international effort to turn raw recruits into effective combat troops.

Yesterday, we wrote about allegations that Ukrainian forces made an incursion into a small town just north of the border in Bryansk Oblast, something Ukrainian officials denied.

On Friday, Russians retaliated in part for what they claim, without evidence, was an attack, hitting Ukraine's neighboring Sumy Oblast with a record number of munitions volleys, according to Ukraine.

"Yesterday, the number of shelling attacks reached record high, by recent standards: we recorded 27 attacks of the border areas with Sumy Oblast, that’s more than 170 shells in total," Taras Savchenko, Acting Head of Sumy Oblast Military Administration, told reporters Friday at the Ukrainian Media Center. "The Russians fired with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and mortars from behind the border, from the Russian federation."

Russia's claims of an attack in Bryansk are among the reasons for the increased attacks, Savchenko said.

“We see several reasons for the increase in these shelling attacks," he said. "In general, they already intensified about a month ago when the enemy became active in the East. The goal is to keep certain groups of defense forces here on the border with Sumy Oblast. We also link yesterday’s shelling to yesterday’s events in Bryansk region."

At the same time, he assured that the situation in the region is currently under control and the morale of the military and civilians is high. No enemy strike groups were detected on the other side of the border.

Meanwhile, more footage emerged on social media of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), a group of Russians opposed to the rule of Vladimir Putin, who claimed on Thursday to have entered Bryansk Oblast.

Though the Ukrainian Suspline news organization stated the group was part of Ukraine's International Legion, the spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), told The War Zone on Friday that's not the case when the group operates in Russia.

"RVCs fight in Ukraine as volunteers, but in Russia they operate as a separate political movement," Andrii Yusov told The War Zone.

On Wednesday, we wrote that Ukraine has been using a guided artillery rocket, called the Vilkha-M, with greater range and payload than the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions used by the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) provided to Ukraine.

On Friday, images emerged on social media of one of those rockets, fired in Donetsk Oblast.

Not all weapons used by Ukraine are as sophisticated. Australia has sent Ukraine at least 100 drones made out of wax-coated cardboard and rubber bands, conveniently flat-packed for easy transportation and assembly, according to 7News Australia.

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Speaking of drones, Ukrainian drone-dropped munitions took out a rare Russian ISDM Zemledeliye remote mine-laying system and a Russian 9A331M TLAR for a Tor-M2 air defense system, according to the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group. They claim it was the first confirmed loss of the ISDM Zemledeliye.

And if you want a good look at how Ukrainians conduct their drone-grenade operations, check out this video.

Ukrainian philanthropist (and potential future presidential candidate) Serhiy Prytula announced that 101 armored personnel carriers have been purchased through a crowd-sourcing effort. They include Spartans, Samaritans, Sultans, Stormers, Shielders, Samsons, FV432s and FV434s once used by the British Army but now out of service.

Prytula said the first 24 of those vehicles have already been delivered.

Add another tank to the list of those captured and reused by Ukraine, which numbers at least more than 540 according to the Oryxspioenkop OSINT group, a figure that is likely quite higher since they only report things that can be visually verified.

Speaking of Russian tanks, while Moscow has lost more than 5,000 armored vehicles in its all-out war on Ukraine, its defense industry continues to showcase products at International arms fairs, according to the U.K.'s Defense Intelligence directorate.

"In particular, recently, they introduced the Arena-E active defense system designed to protect armored vehicles from anti-tank grenades and rockets as well as ground-launched and helicopter-launched anti-tank guided missiles attacking both directly and from above."

However, "there is no evidence" of Arena-E being installed on Russian armor in Ukraine, the U.K Defense Intelligence Directorate said.

Russia has been unable to replace its lost armor because the Russian Federation is unable to establish the production of high-tech defense systems on an industrial scale, according to the U.K. Defense Intelligence Directorate.

Not only is Russia suffering tremendous losses on the battlefield, but its ability to resupply its forces has taken a beating thanks to punishing economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies. You can read more about that here.

The situation is apparently so dire that not only is Russia fielding 60-year-old tanks, but it is equipping them with sights about half as old as well. You can read more about that here.

Combining mobility and lethality, a Ukrainian special operations forces soldier was spotted recently on a motorcycle toting a British NLAW anti-tank weapon and an AK-74 assault rifle.

A long column of Ukrainian BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles was videoed somewhere in the southern part of the country.

Designed to help increase mortar team mobility and survivability by hoisting larger rounds, a U.S.-provided M326 Mortar Stowage Kit was spotted in use by a Ukrainian 120mm mortar team recently.

And finally, Russia may not be providing its most up-to-date armor on the battlefield, but it's apparently fielded a Frankensteinian concoction that places a 25mm 2M-3 naval turret on the body of an MT-LB multipurpose tracked armored vehicle.

That's it for now. We'll update this story when we have more report.

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