DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — Skimming the treetops, three Soviet-era attack helicopters bank and swoop down on a field after an early-morning mission to the front lines in the fight against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Each day, they might fly three or four sorties, says the commander, whose two-crew Mi-24 helicopter, built about 40 years ago, is older than he is.
“We are carrying out combat tasks to destroy enemy vehicles, enemy personnel, we are working with pitch-up attacks from a distance from where the enemy can’t get us with their air defense system,” said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity for operational security reasons, in line with military regulations.
The conflict in Ukraine is largely an artillery war, with territory being fought for inch by inch under a barrage of shells and missiles. But Ukraine’s aviation capabilities play a significant role in the fight, the pilot said.
“The importance of the helicopters is huge,” said the commander, who is part of Ukraine’s 12th Army Aviation Brigade.
Footage from a camera attached to the helicopter during a recent combat mission shows it flying over fields pockmarked with craters from artillery bombing, and firing missiles at Russian trenches that cut through the landscape.
“We are shooting from the big distance and hit the target clearly, like there’s a cross on the target and (the missiles) go by themselves where they should go,” the commander said.
He would, however, like to fly a newer model.
“We need to master something new, something from abroad,” the commander said. “It has better characteristics. You can maneuver more on it, there are more rockets on it and the weapons are more powerful. We can do more tasks with better quality and with less risk for us.”
Several countries, including the United States and Britain, have pledged to send, or have already sent, helicopters to Ukraine as part of military aid since the start of the war sparked by Russia’s invasion in Feb 2022.