Ukraine Strikes Back? Russian Airfield Near Border Set Ablaze (Updated)
The Ukrainian capital came under aerial attack again last night as Russian ground forces pushed closer from the north.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is entering its second day with another massive barrage of strikes targeting Kyiv. There are unconfirmed reports that as many as 40 cruise and ballistic missiles have pounded the Ukrainian capital. It's not entirely clear what kinds of missiles may have been employed, but you can read more about the types that we know have been used in the conflict so far here.
You can find out more about what has transpired already in the past day or so from our previous rolling coverage of the conflict here. For the latest info, including the fire at the Russian airbase near the border with Ukraine, scroll to the bottom of the article.
There are conflicting reports about a major explosion that was seen in the sky over the Ukrainian capital. An advisor to the country's Interior Minister, Anton Herashchenko (Gerashchenko), reportedly said that Ukrainian air defenses had shot either an aircraft or a missile down. CNN, citing Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, has reported that it was a Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet that was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile. Right now we just can't say for certain and all of these reports could potentially be in error, either in part or in full.
There had been rumors that such an attack was coming and many of Kyiv's residents had already taken shelter in the city's subway stations, which are now serving as bomb shelters. Videos and pictures are already starting to emerge showing damage above ground to residential areas as a result of the strikes. It is only logical that Russia would have assessed the damage of its strikes from the night before and built up a new target list to re-attack certain targets as well as prosecute new ones.
Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had also defiantly refused to flee despite saying he is the Kremlin's number one target.
"They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state," Zelensky said in an earlier televised address from an undisclosed location in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, adding that he and his family were not leaving. "We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kyiv."
Zelensky also criticized NATO and its members for refusing to publicly say whether or not Ukraine would ever be admitted to the alliance. "Everyone is afraid, does not answer," he said. "And we are not afraid, we are not afraid of anything."
On the battlefield, so far, Ukrainian forces appear to have had some success in frustrating Russian advances on multiple fronts. The U.K. Ministry of Defense has said that there are indications that Russia's military did not meet its Day 1 objectives despite having made non-insignificant territorial gains – including the capture of the now-defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The U.S. military has given its own assessment that the Ukrainians are very actively fighting back, as well.
After holding the line against ground assaults on multiple fronts, while also losing ground in other areas, earlier today, which followed barrages of air and missile strikes, as well as artillery fire, Ukrainian forces had already continued to fight into the night and are reported to have launched counter-attacks in some areas. In one particularly notable example, Ukrainian troops were reportedly able to retake Hostomel Airport near Kyiv, which currently hosts the only flying example of the An-225 Mriya, one of the world's largest aircraft, after a pitched back and forth battle with Russian paratroopers. Russia clearly saw this airfield as a critical staging location for operations near Kyiv. You can read more about this battle here.
Russian troops had still been able to make important gains, including in and around the site of the now-defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Satellite imagery taken earlier today shows that Russian forces, possibly in cooperation with the Belarusian counterparts, erected a pontoon bridge over the Pripyat River in Belarus in order to affect that movement south into Ukraine. Satellite images from earlier this month had shown a similar bridge spanning a section of the river in the same general location, highlighting this area as a potential vector for an advance as part of a larger Russian invasion.
Ukraine's state nuclear regulator has denied that there has been any worrisome damage to the facility, despite earlier reports of "destruction" that could have caused a radiation leak.
U.S. officials said earlier that they could not confirm or deny that Russia's troops had done anything besides move through the area, despite Ukrainian officials saying that personnel there had been detained by occupying forces. A subsequent U.K. Ministry of Defense statement said that it was likely that Russian forces were in control of the plant. That same statement said that Ukrainian forces were putting up significant resistance and had likely prevented the Russians from meeting their intended objectives on the first day of the invasion.
Ukraine has also issued an appeal to the country's "hacker underground" to help defend the country by launching cyberattacks against Russia. A statement purportedly from the Anonymous hacker collective said that the group is now "officially in cyber war against the Russian government." Anonymous has already claimed responsibility for the inaccessibility of the pseudo-Russian state media outlet RT's website.
All told this still very young conflict continues to evolve rapidly and it remains highly uncertain what direction it will take in the coming hours, let alone days.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
UPDATE: 1:10 AM EST—
After a brief lull, things are moving fast once again in terms of news coming out of Ukraine.
Russian forces emanating from Belarus are now streaming down toward Kiyv where heavy fighting is approaching the capital. Six hours ago, it was estimated that Russian forces were just around two dozen miles from the northern reaches of the capital. By the accounts we are seeing, much of that distance has already been covered. Clearly, this is extremely worrisome as it has been clear part of the goal of this entire operation is to neuter the sitting Ukrainian government and basically take control over the country's political apparatus. The seizure of the capital, whether block-by-block or via siege, would be a key part of such a plan.
There are also reports of an airborne assault far to the east of Kyiv, which could provide another vector of attack, basically opening up a western front:
In the south and the east the fight seems to be only picking up steam:
As it sits, this is the tally from yesterday, according to Lithuania's defense minister:
As for the aircraft that was shot down over Kyiv. The Ukraine Ministry of Defense says it was one of their own Su-27 flying a combat air patrol that was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile. An Su-27 would make sense given the huge size of the fireball. Images from the crash scene appear to corroborate the MoD's statement:
The pilot was remarkably brave for flying in such heavily contested airspace with what was surely no real support and SAM activity nearby.
UPDATE: 2:13 AM EST—
Unconfirmed reports state that Ukraine launched a strike on Russia's Millerovo Air Base not far from the Ukrainian border.
Millerovo is home to the 31st Fighter Aviation Regiment. Formerly a MiG-29 operator, it has upgraded to the Su-30SM, with a total of 24 aircraft divided between two squadrons. Located less than 20 miles from the Ukrainian border, this base was involved in the fighting in Donbas in 2014.
There does look to be the tail of an Su-30 visible in the frame near the flames. There are claims that an OTR-21 Tochka (SS-21 Scarab) tactical ballistic missile was used in the strike or possibly a TB2 drone. Ukraine has a small inventory of the Soviet-era missiles. While they are not extremely accurate, they can deliver a relatively large payload over up to around 110 miles, depending on the variant. It's also possible that some other circumstances are at work here that do not include an aerial strike by Ukraine. Hopefully, some additional info will clear up exactly what happened.
We have ended updates to this story, but are continuing with our rolling coverage of the conflict in Ukraine here.
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