A salvo of Ukrainian heavy missiles blasted the vicinity of a Russian helicopter base near the Russian-occupied port city of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov, on Friday. It is possibly the most ambitious and destructive long-range precision-guided weapons strike yet by Kyiv mission planners against Kremlin military infrastructure.

Most reports said a barrage of at least 10 British Storm Shadow cruise missiles struck around Berdyansk airport over several minutes starting at 8 a.m. If confirmed, the missile raid would mark the single most massive use by Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) of Western-delivered, medium-range, precision-guided weapons since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

News and social media video from the port city showed six thick, black smoke columns rising from the vicinity of the Berdyansk airport, a site intensively used by the Russian air force since at least mid-June as a base for at least a dozen helicopter gunships and a similar number of reconnaissance and medevac helicopters.

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“In the vicinity of the airport, there are fires and explosions. Emergency response vehicles are en route,” a statement from the Russian occupation authorities in Berdyansk said. At least 11 heavy explosions were counted, the statement said.

A Ukraine army statement called the strike “successful” and claimed the destruction of Russian command and control facilities, supply materials and ammunition – without naming the weapon used.

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British-delivered Storm Shadow cruise missiles – currently the longest-ranged precision-guided weapon known to be operated by the Ukrainian military – carried out the attacks, and some were shot down, unconfirmed local Russian accounts said. The independent UNIAN news agency confirmed the strike took place near the airport, but the weapons used and the damage caused were not immediately clear.

The Kremlin-sponsored military blogger Vladimir Rogov published images of debris from a Storm Shadow missile he said air defense units had shot down “in the sky above Berdyansk.” Some Berdyansk social media showed a single contrail, typical for an anti-aircraft missile, above the city.

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A major Russian army logistics and command-and-control hub, Berdyansk was reportedly last hit by a single, Ukrainian long-range weapon on Tuesday. Some reports said that the explosion wasn’t a Storm Shadow, but rather a Russian anti-aircraft missile fired at another target, which hit the ground at the end of its flight.

Previously confirmed Storm Shadow strikes against military targets in the Berdyansk sector include a three-missile attack hitting a Russian forward helicopter refueling base near the seaside resort village of Prymorsk on June 17, and a June 22 strike demolishing a hotel and R&R complex reportedly used by Russian troops in the village of Urzuf.

Berdyansk-based Russian air force Ka-52 attack helicopters, a heavily armored aircraft carrying long-range anti-tank missiles, have been a thorn for Ukrainian forces in the southern Zaporizhzhia sector, particularly since Kyiv kicked off its summer offensive in early June.

Missile-toting Ka-52 gunships flying strikes against AFU armor and tank units on June 8 helped hand the Ukrainian military its worst tactical defeat of Kyiv’s summer offensive so far, knocking out a reported five German-made Leopard 2 tanks and 11 US-made Bradley infantry fighting vehicles.

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The dense presence of Russian helicopters at Berdyansk airport was widely reported in Ukrainian media in mid-June, with satellite images of the base purchased and published by the US-funded Radio Liberty news service. On June 13, at least 27 Russian air force helicopters were based at Berdyansk airport, among them five Ka-52 helicopter gunships, nine Mi-8 or Mi-24 attack helicopters, and 13 Ka-29 reconnaissance and rescue helicopters, those reports said.

As of midday Friday, no report had confirmed damage to aircraft at Berdyansk airport. Access to the air base was blocked by Russian police and security troops, news reports and social media said.

Almost all of the Ukrainian military’s weapons lack the 110- to 120-kilometer range needed to hit Berdyansk from territory currently controlled by the AFU. The only exceptions are very limited numbers of domestically manufactured and relatively inaccurate Hrim and Tochka-U missiles, and the modern French-British Storm Shadow missile, with a reported maximum range of 500 kilometers.

Kyiv first launched strikes with the Storm Shadow in May. Carrying a 450-kilogram warhead, Storm Shadow is generally considered by military analysts to be Ukraine’s most effective and powerful long-range strike system.

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Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in May 28 comments praised Storm Shadow as the deadliest long-range weapon in the AFU’s arsenal, stating on a national TV program, “I can say that of the total number of Storm Shadow launches that have taken place, all 100 percent have reached targets determined by the General Staff – 100 out of 100, absolutely perfect.”

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