The Air Force saves us from missiles and planes of the occupiers. How it works, what it needs, and why it requires NATO air defense — tells the spokesman of the Ukrainian Air Force Yurii Ihnat

Oksana Kovalenko
Dmytro Rayevskyi
The Air Force saves us from missiles and planes of the occupiers. How it works, what it needs, and why it requires NATO air defense — tells the spokesman of the Ukrainian Air Force Yurii Ihnat

On the morning of February 24th Russian troops invaded Ukraine along the almost entire common borderline. Initially, they fired cruise missiles at Ukrainian airfields and other military facilities that were supposed to counter them in the air. Now the twenty-first day of the war has passed. Russia continues launching missiles at Ukraine, destroying peaceful cities. Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Volnovakha, Kyiv, Mykolayiv, and Severodonetsk are under fire. The missiles reached Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv oblast, Rivne, Vinnytsia, and other cities far beyond the front line [located in the Western part of Ukraine]. According to the Pentagon, in the last 20 days the Russian occupiers fired nearly a thousand missiles at Ukraine. The Russians are also bombing Ukrainian cities with unguided aerial bombs. The Ukrainian military, despite not being able to equal the enemy in weaponry, is destroying Russian planes and helicopters. The air defense forces are trying to shoot down Russian missiles, protecting the lives of Ukrainians. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko spoke with Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, about the current situation in the air. We publish his story in the form of a monologue.

What did the Russian occupiers come at us with

Prior to the beginning of warfare, our intelligence and foreign sources were telling us that the enemy outnumbers us by about 1 to 6 in aviation. We had data that there were approximately 700 aircraft on the border with Ukraine: 450 planes and 250 helicopters. This number could vary. In addition, the enemy started using Belarusian airfields Baranovichi and Luninets. This made it harder for us to defend ourselves.

In the first days of the war, the enemy struck our radar facilities throughout the whole Ukrainian territory, as well as at our anti-aircraft missile units and airfields. Of course, we were expecting such a move and were prepared for it — our aviation almost entirely escaped the attack and moved from main bases to other airfields. But the enemy still continues to destroy the airfield infrastructure.

About the missiles and bombs Russian occupiers use to attack Ukraine

Every day they [Russians] fire missiles and bombs at the Ukrainian territory. They use winged "Caliber" and ballistic missiles, launched from "Iskander" complexes. The Russians fire such missiles not only from the ground. They also use Black Sea-based ships and Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic aircraft that allow them to hit targets several thousand kilometers away. We can detect them, turn on the air raid sirens to get people to safety, and then try to shoot down missiles with our air defense. There were cases when such missiles were shot down even by a fighter jet. You can also eliminate them with portable anti-aircraft missile systems. But itʼs very difficult: missiles usually fly low over the terrain at a speed of 800 km per hour. So now they are destroyed not that often.

Yurii Ihnat


Apart from "Caliber" and "Iskander", the Russian occupiers also operate high-precision X-101 missiles. Extremely expensive stuff. They used them to hit Vinnytsia. And on March 14 they shelled Yavoriv airfield in Lviv oblast with them. According to preliminary information, the Russians launched missiles at Yavoriv from the Russian Federation territory, using TU-160 aircraft. In total, on the night of March 14, they fired 72 missiles of various types [on different targets] all over Ukraine.

However, these missiles are very expensive and sooner or later Russians will run out of their arsenal. Therefore, they began using unguided aerial bombs such as FAB-100, FAB-250, FAB-500, and other bombs of larger calibers. They are dropped from planes and descend in free fall, so their accuracy is very low. And whilst the Russians say they are trying to destroy military targets, these bombs hit kindergartens and residential buildings.

On the ground, we fight back, but if they will bomb us endlessly, with unguided bombs in particular, the situation will be difficult.

How do we defend ourselves

Our anti-aircraft missile forces are fighting a positional struggle. This allows us to survive when the enemy predominates in numbers and puts its air defense units on our territory. But we counteract and we do it effectively: the Ukrainian army shoots down enemy aircraft every day. The infantry and navy work well, shooting with anti-aircraft missile systems, both ours and those provided to us by Western partners.

Strike aviation provides extremely important support to units of the land forces. They are the ones who attack the enemyʼs convoys, destroy the supplies for the occupying forces so that they donʼt receive fuel. Fighter aviation covers the areas that we control.

But there are areas where we have actually lost control over the sky. The enemy has already brought forces to our territory and surpasses us in both air defense systems and aircraft. It is near Kharkiv and north of Kyiv. Russian planes behave there like at home. They destroyed our air defenses there and deployed their own in the area of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy. Therefore, we definitely need a closed sky. It is clear that there is very little chance that our partners will close it. That is why we ask West to provide us with modern air defense systems, fighters that could work effectively and strengthen our defense. We need modern missile defense systems, and we are counting on our Western partners. If the West is not ready to provide us with air defense systems, they can at least sell them to us, we are ready to buy them.

A serviceman of the Ukrainian Armed Forces passes by the remains of a Russian Su-25 attack aircraft on March 8, 2022.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

We fight effectively, we are on our territory, we use different maneuvers, we learn to get out of the attack, we make traps for the enemy — this is a martial art, and we are well-trained in it. We are ready to resist the enemy on earth, and we are doing so, but if we do not control the sky, we wonʼt have the desired success. Thatʼs why we need modern fighters and anti-aircraft missile systems. "Stingers" that our partners gave us are good, we have similar ones — "Needle", "Arrow". But this is not enough to shoot down planes, because they drop missiles and bombs without entering the area that the "Stingers" can reach.

Neither can we get along without fighter jets to repel bombers flying to shell our peaceful cities. We have experienced pilots, but they need to have something to fly on. Our pilots, both those who are currently in service and those who are in reserve now but ready to join the army tomorrow, as well as foreigners, are ready to strengthen the Air Forces. In just a few weeks they will easily retrain themselves to use the combat aircraft our partners can give us, such as the F-15 or F-16, whose weapons will allow them to fight on equal terms with more modern fighters of the occupiers.

The enemy claims that they destroyed 90% of our airfield infrastructure, all combat aircraft and air defense, but for some reason we continue to destroy them, day and night. Although not every day our fighters return from their missions — we also have losses, unfortunately. But they are disproportionate to the ones they have. Because we are on our own land.