Pro-Russian social media on Monday claimed that two missiles had hit an air base in Ukraine’s northern Poltava region which took out as many as seven fighter aircraft and killed or injured dozens of ground personnel. However, Kyiv Post fact checks of the available evidence point to much more moderate results – along with Kremlin-inspired information manipulation.

A tightly edited one-minute drone video initially published on the pro-Kremlin Telegram channel FighterBomber, on Monday evening, showed images of the Myrhorod air base in the Poltava region where, according to Russian reports, two cluster munition-equipped Iskander-M missiles detonated among parked Ukrainian fighter planes.

The Russian milblogger Dva Mayora informed its 600,000-plus followers that the strikes had destroyed two Ukrainian combat aircraft and damaged four more.

Advertisement

The Zaporozhskiy Front Telegram channel reported the Russian attack was “… the smoothly coordinated work of [Russian] reconnaissance and missilemen. Operators of [Russian] reconnaissance UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] observed the buildup of equipment at the airfield over several days. As soon as a significant number of aircraft had assembled there, the information was transmitted to the missilemen, and the dispatch of the Iskander-M did not take long… 5 fighter jets were destroyed, 2 were damaged, and up to 25 ground crew were eliminated.”

Explained: How Bad Is Ukraine’s Energy Situation?
Other Topics of Interest

Explained: How Bad Is Ukraine’s Energy Situation?

In short, very bad. Ukraine has lost more than half its pre-war energy capacity, and with questions over the feasibility of protecting Ukraine’s power plants, alternative solutions are vital.

Russian “military correspondent” Boris Rozhin editorialized: “Now Ukrainian patriotic society is looking, for the second day, for someone to blame about the destruction of aircraft and personnel at the Myrhorod airfield. The cluster munitions from the Iskander missile absolutely nailed the target. So now someone has to be blamed. It seems likely the [Ukrainian] losses were extremely heavy.”

Yury Ihnat, Ukraine Air Force official spokesman, in a Monday evening statement confirmed the strikes took place but denied the reports of substantial damage being inflicted. He said: “there were certain losses… but absolutely not of the type that the enemy is trying to say there were.”

Advertisement

After reviewing the FighterBomber video, Kyiv Post has concluded that the official Ukrainian version of events appears to be more accurate, with Russian claims of multiple Ukrainian aircraft being destroyed appearing to be exaggerated – and very possibly intentionally false.

Kyiv Post geolocation confirmed the video was taken near the Myrhorod military airfield, home base to Ukraine’s 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade. The video shows one missile scattering cluster munitions over the southwestern end of the airfield, and a second missile striking a parking apron in the same vicinity.

The 9K720 Iskander (NATO: SS-26 Stone) has a reported maximum range of 500 kilometers (312 miles) and carries either a unitary high explosive warhead or cluster munitions.

The first 30 seconds of the video, much of it zoomed in, shows as many as seven Su-27 fighter aircraft parked next to taxiways at the western end of the airfield. Fuel trucks, fire trucks, tow trucks, and probable maintenance vehicles are parked nearby, with several people visible on the tarmac.

Advertisement

At the 30-33 second mark of the FighterBomber video a cluster munition detonates and scatters bomblets across an area of around 250 x 250 meters (800 x 800 feet). The center point of the strike was at approximately grid 49.92949, 33.62630.

Screenshot from FighterBomber video of strike on the Myrhorod airbase. The leftmost image shows fighter jets in an area of the airfield later hit by Iskander-delivered cluster munitions in the right-hand image where no aircraft are visible.

No Ukrainian aircraft are visible in the sections of the video showing the cluster munition strike, possibly because the drone was a long way off and its field of view was limited. However, the same scene shown earlier in the video did contain aircraft, but after the strike, there were no secondary explosions, and some parking sites seem empty.

Taken by itself, the video of this first missile strike did not offer conclusive evidence that even a single Ukrainian aircraft had been hit, although it could not be conclusively ruled out.

FighterBomber, among other pro-Russia observers, said the strike destroyed four Ukrainian aircraft. Given the contradictions between pre- and post-strike sections of the video, in respect of the first missile strike, it was clearly possible that selective editing was used to create a false impression of a damaging strike against the Ukrainian airbase.

Advertisement

At the 50-58 seconds section of the video, supposedly documenting the second missile strike, a probable unitary warhead detonates approximately at grid 49.928566, 33.627107 – the edge of an aircraft parking apron.

The Russian drone operator records a bright orange explosion flash, and black and gray smoke rising from the strike location. After a bit of struggle adjusting its zoom, a building and possibly grass next to the parking apron are clearly on fire. However, no aircraft is visible. The zoomed in images clearly show the parking apron to be empty.

Yet, at the 11-second mark of the video, purportedly prior to the strike, a Su-27 fighter jet is clearly visible at the same location. The strong implication is that the editors producing the FighterBomber video selected images to create the impression of destroyed Ukrainian aircraft, when that likely was not the case, Kyiv Post’s review of the footage found.

The explosions and fire following the second missile strike were more likely the result of a successful hit on ready-to-use aircraft munitions stored on the parking apron, and not on a Ukrainian fighter jet, Kyiv Post research into open-source satellite imagery found.

Advertisement
To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter