Ukraine has claimed it struck Russian airfields in Berdyansk and Luhansk with long-range weapons overnight, destroying aircraft on the ground and other military equipment.
In a post on social media, Ukraine’s military said: “On the night of Oct. 17, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) carried out successful strikes on helicopters and airfield equipment of the Russian occupying forces in the temporarily-occupied Luhansk and Berdyansk.”
A subsequent AFU statement said that at least two Russian Air Force helicopters sitting on the ground at Berdyansk were destroyed, and the artillery system and an ammunition warehouse at the airfield were hit as well.
Video recorded by residents purportedly in the vicinity recorded anti-aircraft fire in a dark sky, and possible anti-aircraft missile launches, followed by three heavy, extended explosions. Social media reports said the Ukrainian strikes were shortly after 2:30 a.m.
Kyiv later claimed to have destroyed nine helicopters, an air defence launcher, an ammunition warehouse and said it had damaged runways. It also claimed Russian forces had suffered losses in the operation.
Aircraft known to be based by the Russian Air Force at Berdyansk airport include Ka-52 and Mi-8 general-purpose helicopters, and Mi-24 and Mi-28 helicopter gunships.
The Berdyansk airport strike and substantial Russian Air Force equipment damage were widely confirmed by Russian milbloggers, with one describing it as “one of the most serious blows of all time in the Northern Military District. If not the most serious.”
They said: “There are losses in both people and technology. It’s pointless to write about the fact that ‘we need to draw conclusions so that this doesn’t happen again. This will happen again as long as the war continues. We must be prepared for this.”
They also claimed the attack was carried out by ATACMS missiles though, officially at least, Ukraine does not currently have any of the weapons.
Russians dumb enough to still keep helicopters and jets in occupied Ukraine are probably reconsidering after seeing two of their airfields go up in smoke last night.— Jay in Kyiv (@JayinKyiv) October 17, 2023
Here, one Berdyansk, other was in Lugansk.
Helicopters were destroyed. pic.twitter.com/Egi56Bw206
President Zelensky said Kyiv's "assault operations" had achieved results. "I am grateful to those who are effectively destroying the occupiers' logistics bases on our land," he said in a statement.
He also thanked "every warrior" for defending key frontline areas in the east and south of the country.
A midnight statement from the Berdyansk occupation authority had claimed all incoming weapons were intercepted and suggested that city residents remain calm.
Berdyansk airport, located to the north of the city, is some 110-20 km from the closest Ukraine-controlled territory likely suitable for a long-range missile launch. It was not clear what weapons the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) used to hit the airfield.
The Moscow-associated Voenniy Osvedomitel information platform was among pro-Russia Telegram channels reporting on Tuesday morning that US-manufactured ATACMS ballistic missiles tipped with cluster munitions warheads had carried out the strike on Berdyansk airport, without offering substantial evidence.
The official Ukrainian army statements did not specify the weapon or weapons used.
Ukraine has since the first days of the invasion repeatedly asked Washington for the ATACMS tactical ballistic missile, a weapon designed for American HIMARS launchers already in AFU operation, and ranging out to 500 km.
The US has dragged its feet on a possible ATACMS transfer on grounds that American delivery of a ballistic missile system to Ukraine could trigger Kremlin aggression.
US-delivered HIMARS precision-guided rockets, thus far the most effective and destructive long-range weapon in AFU use, and thanks to overhead-burst warheads and high accuracy, one of the AFU’s go-to weapons for airfield strikes, have a maximum range of 80 km.
Ukraine’s domestically-produced Vilkha rocket has a rated range of 130 km, but thus far in the war, Kyiv has been unable to manufacture the munition in quantity. Ukraine at the start of the war also had limited stocks of Tochka-U ballistic missiles, but reserves of that weapon are likely exhausted, military analysts have said.
France and Britain in May kicked off transfers of Storm Shadow anti-ship missiles in limited quantities. Known as SCALP when manufactured by France, the missile has a reported range of 300-350 km.
AFU strike planners have to date used Storm Shadow/SCALP for long-range naval and naval infrastructure strikes, most notably on Sept. 14 when Storm Shadow salvos destroyed a Russian navy submarine and amphibious assault ship in drydock in Sevastopol harbor.
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