Russian forces are using drones to hunt for the Ukrainian weapons system that downed three Russian supersonic Su-34 strike aircraft earlier this week.

Speaking to national TV, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said the Kremlin wanted to find the equipment “from which their planes were sent into eternal flight.”

He added: “Now the enemy, using drones, is trying to gather the maximum amount of intelligence in southern areas where the Russian fighter jets were brought down.”

Ukraine announced on Friday it had downed three Russian Su-34s, though the weapons system used has not been disclosed.

Some military-themed Telegram channels suggested the possible use of the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system.

The Su-34 [NATO codename “Fullback] aircraft is essentially a two-seat air-to-ground adaptation of the Su-27 “Fulcrum.”

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They are employed as launch platforms of guided aerial bombs and Kh-59 missiles, which the Russians use to attack the Kherson region and other areas of Ukraine.

The commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, Mykola Oleschuk, said the operation was payback for an earlier Russian drone attack on which one of the drones was written “Die Bitch” in Russia.

In a Telegram post, he wrote: “Great idea! Here’s our answer! Today, at noon, in the Southern sector – minus three Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers!”

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He added: “Eternal flight, ‘brothers’!”

Ihnat added that since the downing of the aircraft there had been fewer guided bomb attacks in the Kherson region but said more anti-aircraft weapons were still needed by Ukraine.

“The Air Force can conduct such operations in different sectors,” he said. “The only question is that there should be more of these systems, and this issue is being discussed as part of our recently created air defense coalition.”

Russian forces continue to bombard the Kherson region with artillery – four people were killed and injured nine over 24 hours in the frontline southern Ukrainian city.

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Kremlin forces fired 71 shells at Kherson from Saturday to Sunday morning, hitting the city centre, residential areas, medical and educational institutions and “critical infrastructure facilities.” the region's governor Oleksandr Prokudin wrote on Telegram.

“As a result of Russian aggression, four people died and nine others were wounded, including one child.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned what he called “brutal terrorist shelling deliberately targeting life-sustaining civilian infrastructure and ordinary streets.”

“Unfortunately there are fatalities. My condolences to the families,” the president added in a message on social media.

Prokudin said an 87-year-old man and his 81-year-old wife were among the victims after an artillery shell hit a residential building. Rescuers found a third male victim under rubble, he added.

Zelensky said that repair teams would “work around the clock to restore electricity and heat supply” to the city after the strikes.

Ukraine recaptured Kherson following several months of Russian occupation in November last year.

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It is now a regular target for Moscow's forces based on the opposite bank of the Dnipro river, which became a natural front line as the conflict slowed to a war of attrition.

Separately, Ukraine's air force on Sunday said it had intercepted all but one of 15 drones launched by Russia overnight.

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