Ukrainians carry out secret night attack against Russia

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Video shows Ukrainians fighting Russia

Getting Ready for the Operation

Video shows Ukrainians fighting Russia 2:37

In an abandoned building, the pilot of a Ukrainian drone blocks out his surroundings, concentrating solely on the controller in his hands. The room without walls offers him and his unit some protection on the moonless night.

The soldier’s small remote control display, the only light source allowed, illuminates his piercing gaze as his drone, miles away, is moments away from dropping a 16kg explosive on a Russian position.

“We call this moment ‘from Ukraine with love,'” says his superior officer.

This secret night attack is being carried out by an elite unit made up of elements of the Security Service of Ukraine – commonly known as the SBU – and the country’s Patrol Police.

The operation was given the green light after the Ukrainian army reported the presence of a launch base from which Russian forces were firing Kornet rockets at their troops, missiles intended to be used against tanks.

“We have known about this target for a relatively short time, we have literally discovered it today,” explains a senior SBU officer, who goes by the name of Bankir.

Marat prepares the explosive that his unit will try to drop on the Russian positions.
(Credit: Frederik Pleitgen/CNN)

The Extensive Preparation

During the day, the drone unit spent hours scouting possible nighttime launch sites for their mission, as well as learning the exact coordinates of their target.

The extensive preparation involves flying different surveillance drones towards Russian positions, but also drawing on additional intelligence from other Ukrainian units until they have a complete picture of the target.

“The reconnaissance has revealed the enemy’s firing position, which is used to destroy the equipment of the Ukrainian defense forces,” Bankir explains. “It will be destroyed today,” he adds.

Before launch they drive in complete darkness, turning off their headlights and using night vision goggles to see the road, arriving at a designated location.

“We try, we push ourselves,” says Bankir. “This has to happen under all these conditions.”

They hide their vehicles and advance a few hundred meters on foot, while the Ukrainian and Russian forces exchange artillery salvoes. Relying solely on red light, which, they say, is harder for Russian drones to spot from afar, especially when they aren’t looking, they light the way.

“Come on, come on, come on,” says a soldier. The others take cover.

Everything is carefully choreographed to hide their tracks and ensure their position remains hidden from Russian surveillance and artillery as they carry out their attack.

This unit takes advantage of Ukraine’s best night vision capability to target Russian forces at night.
(Credit: Frederik Pleitgen/CNN)

An Offensive in the Dark

Night missions like this have so far been a defining feature of the opening phases of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, especially in the south of the country. Ukrainian attacks can shake buildings as far as the city of Zaporizhia and explosions light up the skies, even though the city is some 30 miles from the front line.

Ukraine has remained coy about the counteroffensive and is even more secretive when it comes to the tactical details of its probing operations along the front lines. But on the Russian side there is a conviction that Ukraine has a clear advantage in this area.

“Why is the war at night? It’s as clear as day,” Russian military blogger Vladimir Sladkov wrote on his Telegram channel. “The (Western) teams have excellent night optics.”

The head of the Zaporityia civil-military administration, Vladimir Rogov, installed in Russia, shares a similar opinion.

“There are several reasons (why Ukraine attacks at night),” he posted on his Telegram. “The first is to reduce the effectiveness of our aviation; the second, to avoid losses from targeted hits by the kamikaze drone strike company of our 42nd division; and the third, to make the most of the advantages of using Western-supplied equipment and instruments.”

The United States has been supplying Ukrainian forces with night vision technology since at least 2018, technology not typically available to most regular Russian soldiers.

Recently donated armored vehicles—such as the Leopard 2 tanks and M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles—also have advanced night vision capabilities, in most cases better than those available on older Soviet equipment still in use by Russian forces.

A Successful Coup

As the Ukrainian drone approaches its Russian target, the mission enters its most critical phase. The device is loud and once you get close to the soldiers in Moscow, they will be able to hear you, even if they cannot see you.

Moments later, text messages intercepted by the Ukrainian SBU reveal that soldiers in Moscow have noticed. “Enemy bird sighted,” sends a soldier. “Understood,” replies another.

Knowing that a drone is in the air means that Russian soldiers will try to shoot it down. “They are shooting at him,” says Marat. “They can’t see the drone, but they are shooting towards the sound.”

The unit also hopes that the Russian forces will try to finish them off, launching flares into the air to illuminate the entire surrounding area.

“They try to see any anomaly and our presence here, now, is an anomaly. If they have a clear image of that area, they will see that something has changed. Cars have appeared, there has been movement,” Marat explains. “If they see us, they’ll try to catch us.”

Luckily, on this occasion, the unit was not sighted, but there have been occasions when they have come under heavy Russian artillery fire.

“It happens very often,” says Marat. “That’s why we try to change each time the launch site, the time and the frequency of the radio signal.”

Careful planning means they have lost just four drones since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion last year—far fewer than other units, which in some cases burn multiple aircraft a day—and have yet to lose any team members.

“The safety of the team comes first,” adds Marat. “Next, drone safety.”

Immediately after reaching the target, the focus is on getting the drone back to base, using a pre-plotted route, in the hope of avoiding air defenses.

“Now it’s coming back,” says the pilot. “She is traveling at 14 meters per second.”

Minutes later he is finally out of danger. “I want to smoke,” the pilot says as he sighs in relief.

As soon as they land, the unit quickly packs up everything and leaves, leaving no trace of their presence. The images recorded by the drone the next day show a destroyed target, another successful mission.

However, the men say their work is not done yet, not while Russian forces continue to occupy Ukraine. “We want to take revenge for all the evil that has been done to us,” says Bankir.

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