Russia is “very upset” after two of its fighter jets and two military helicopters were downed overnight.
In one of the worst days for the Russian air force since the launch of Ukraine invasion last year, a Su-34 fighter and a Mi-8 helicopter crashed in southern Russia, the state news agency TASS reported.
Another Mi-8 and a Su-35 also crashed, according to Russian military correspondents and an official of a Russian proxy state that claims territory in eastern Ukraine, the Wall Street Journalreported.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the incidents had left the country reeling.
“The Russians are very upset today,” Vereshchuk posted on Facebook. “They can be understood: Minus two fighters and minus two helicopters.”
TASS reported that a helicopter crashed near Klintsy, 40km from the border of Ukraine.
It also said a Su-34 warplane crashed in the Bryansk region in Russia but did not mention details of the Su-35 or a second helicopter.
The cause of the crashes weren’t clear, with TASS citing an emergency service official who blamed an engine fire for causing the helicopter crash.
However, there was also a report by Kommersant, an independent Russian news website, that the aircraft were “shot down almost simultaneously” by Ukraine.
“According to preliminary data … the fighters were supposed to deliver a missile and bomb attack on targets in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine, and the helicopters were there to back them up – among other things to pick up the ‘Su’ crews if they were shot down,” Kommersant reported.
Russian media outlet Readovka also reported the downed aircraft.
“Two helicopters and fighter-bombers were shot down by the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the site reported.
“Our pilots were ambushed and we are talking about a carefully planned operation.”
Some Russian military correspondents believe Ukrainian special forces may have used shoulder-mounted missiles to take down the aircraft.
Meanwhile, a video posted to the Russian Telegram channel Voyenniy Osvedomitel, a pro-war channel, appeared to show a helicopter exploding in the sky before falling to the ground in flames.
Nine crew members died in the incidents, according to Russia’s military.
On the front line, near the eastern flashpoint town of Bakhmut, both sides claimed to be making progress.
“Our soldiers are moving forward in some areas of the front, and the enemy is losing equipment and manpower,” commander of the Ukrainian ground forces Oleksandr Syrskyi said on social media.
Russia said its forces were still pushing inside Bakhmut.
“In the Donetsk direction, assault detachments liberated a block in the northwestern part of the city of Artemovsk,” the defence ministry said, referring to Bakhmut by its Russian name.
Western allies have delivered increasingly powerful weapons to Ukraine.
Britain this week announced it was sending Storm Shadow missiles, becoming the first country to send longer-range arms to Kyiv.
Russia described it as “an extremely hostile step” and on Saturday accused Kyiv of using the UK missiles to target civilian sites in eastern Ukraine, and wounding six children.
In Rome, Zelensky said he discussed with Pope Francis the fate of “tens of thousands of children” that Kyiv says were deported to Russia, as well as his plans for peace.
Zelensky also thanked Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni “for helping to save lives”.
“I am convinced that Ukraine will win and be reborn stronger, more proud and more prosperous than before,” said Meloni in return.
– With wires