Nearly two months into war and defying all odds, Ukraine’s air defense forces continue to thwart Russian targets, according to U.S. and Ukrainian military officials.
Thursday marks the 50th day of war in Ukraine, according to U.S defense officials. While Ukrainian leadership continues to press the international community for additional military resources and fighters, the country’s modest combat air fleet of aging Cold War-era fighters remains a relevant element in its defense strategy.
President Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. would be sending Ukraine an additional $800 million in military aid that included weapons, ammunition and 11 Mi-17 helicopters. The aid is in addition to more than $1.7 billion committed by the U.S. in security assistance since the Russian invasion in late February.
“This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement. “These new capabilities include artillery systems, artillery rounds, and armored personnel carriers. I have also approved the transfer of additional helicopters. In addition, we continue to facilitate the transfer of significant capabilities from our Allies and partners around the world.”
Almost daily, Ukraine’s air command delivers updates of the country’s air defense campaign via social media.
“Fighters of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to patrol the airspace, covering the strike groups of [Sukhoi] Su-25 attackers and [Sukhoi] Su-24m bombers, which on April 10 inflicted heavy missile and bomb strikes on columns of equipment and manpower of the Russian occupiers,” the Air Force Command of the UA Armed Forces said April 10.
In that one day, Ukraine’s air defense reported that it destroyed 11 Russian targets, including a Su-34 fighter, four helicopters, three unmanned aerial vehicles, and three X-59 cruise missiles, according to Ukrainian officials.
“We would assess that the Ukrainians still have, they still have the majority of their air defense available to them, but they have been clear that they want to boost their inventories for air defense capabilities,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday.
That same day, Ukraine’s air force said it destroyed a SU-25 fighter in what it said marked its 300th successful Russian target.
The claim is a remarkable feat for a country going up against Russia, which on paper, had one of the largest air force fleets in the world at the onset of the war.
Late last week, even a Kremlin spokesperson was forced to admit that Russia had accrued “significant losses of troops” that he called “a huge tragedy for us.”
The full scale of those losses, however, remains to be confirmed. Russia has reported that 1,351 of its soldiers have been killed. Ukrainian officials, citing body recovery counts, say that about 18,900 Russian soldiers have been killed, the Guardian reported.
“We have destroyed more Russian weapons and military equipment than some armies in Europe currently possess, but this is not enough,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday in a video appeal for additional international military aid. Ukraine’s military forces need artillery, artillery shells, multiple launch rocket systems, armored vehicles, tanks, and air defense systems, he said.
The country also desperately needs more military aircraft to protect cities “and save millions of Ukrainians as well as millions of Europeans,” he said.