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'It's a strike!': Ukrainian drone attack mission hits Russian tanks

Updated: Jun 24, 2023


Picture: The Msta B artillery gun fires at the target with the aid of the drone coordinates


Reporter Jeff Farrell embeds with the Freikorps brigade in Kupiansk, Kharkiv as they launch a successful artillery strike on Russian tanks aided with a drone.


By Jeff Farrell

in Kupiansk


A DRONE rises into the sky with its tiny propellers whining — on a mission to destroy a Russian army target.


Ukrainian soldier Tapk peers up at the black Mavic 3 Pro as it flies east towards Moscow’s frontline, just over 500m away.


The goal is to zoom over a building where Tapk says the Russian army has parked tanks.


There are also military vehicles used to transport troops and weapons along the frontline.


It comes amid fierce fighting here around the city of Kupiansk in Ukraine’s north eastern state of Kharkiv.


Picture: Freikorps brigade member Tapk sets the drone in place for a take-off here in Kupiansk, Kharkiv


Picture: Freikorps brigade drone pilot David operates the drone bound for the Russian target here in Kupiansk, Kharkiv


Moscow aims to seize the area and link up with already occupied turf to the southeast in the Donbas region.


Ukraine is struggling to hold the line in Kupiansk, soldiers say, but Kyiv is gearing up for a counter-offensive.


We embedded with the Freikorps brigade in the area in Kupiansk and watched how the unit caused havoc for the enemy.


Picture: Reporter Jeff Farrell at the site of a demolished bridge in Kupiansk, Kharkiv


It is just after 6am and we are standing in long grass outside a derelict building as explosions from distant shelling boom.


Both Kyiv and Moscow have also harnessed tech in this hybrid war and wage attacks with drones.


ENEMIES


“Get inside, fast,” Tapk shouts, looking up at a sky that hangs over dull green fields. “There are Russian drones patrolling.”


“Two or three – enemies,” fellow drone pilot David roars, his trained eye seeing the dangerous 'buzzards' above.


We scurry down stairs into a basement in the derelict house, pushing through a damp brown rug that serves as a door.


Tapk and fellow Freikorps drone unit pilot David sit in the gloom as a mobile power generator hums outside.


Picture: The Mavic 3 Pro drone ready to be launched for a strike on a Russian target


In the corner stands a bulky grey device, a single blue light shining.


It is Elon Musk’s Starlink that allows the Ukrainian army to enjoy secure comms free from the enemy listening in.


Tapk and David hunch over consoles on their laps for the strike mission. Tapk focuses on a satellite map image on his screen of the target while David toggles two joysticks that operate the drone.


We watch his screen as the drone flies east over fields dotted with patches of trees.


“It’s enemy territory,” David says, nodding at the Russian occupied area on his console.


Picture: Freikorps brigade drone pilot David operates the drone bound for the Russian target here in Kupiansk, Kharkiv


The drone then hovers 250m over the target – three one-storey long buildings in a disused farm. It is just 594m in the distance, in a stretch of no man’s land that divides Ukraine and its invader.


David points at his screen.


“This is the enemy transport base where the Russians store vehicles. Cars, tanks – transport. We will destroy it.”


He explains that the drone is an eye in the sky and fellow brigade members will do the damage. They are manning a nearby Msta B artillery gun that fires 152mm calibre shells.


Picture: The Freikorps brigade push the Msta B artillery gun into position for the attack


David says his brigade “borrowed” the Msta B in a recent push on enemy lines.


“It’s a Russian trophy,” he laughs.


“We need to give coordinates to the artillery team and they will fire.”


He adds that none of Moscow’s personnel are inside the building and that the attack is only on their logistics.


But his screen suddenly shows blurry grey shapes moving towards the target building.


Picture: The Freikorps brigade get ready to load the 152mm calibre shells into the artillery gun


“Russians,” David shouts out excitedly, jabbing a finger at the screen and grinning.


A Motorola radio crackles and Tapk replies to the artillery team, calling out coordinates.


Hitting the building is still the goal but David says if “the enemies” are inside it is a bonus.


A video shows the men standing by the Msta B artillery gun hidden in a clump of trees, the 23ft barrel pointing east at its target.


Picture: The Freikorps brigade have pushed the Msta B artillery gun into position for the attack


The soldiers at the site wear headphone-like ear protection and step back. The gun barrel then bows and blasts out a 152mm calibre shell that gives off a sharp crack. Smoke billows and debris from the spent shell scatters.


CRACK


David’s screen shows a plume of smoke rising from just behind the building.


“No, no, no,” he says as the target is missed.


Tapk calls out fresh coordinates for a second strike that misses again.


“It is the last one now,” David says, tapping his finger on the screen.


The artillery gun fires again and David and Tapk hold their breath and stare at their screens.


They then let out a roar, pumping fists.


“We got it, we got it!”


Picture: Drone pilot David's console shows the successful strike on the target of parked tanks in the building at the side of a disused farm


Mission accomplished but no enemy killed as it appeared they cottoned on to the attack.


“My commander was listening in on their comms and said they were senior officers,” David says.


Outside, Tapk grabs the drone now hovering just over his head and sets it on a wooden stool as the propellers stop buzzing.


David smokes a cigarette and nods at the Mavic 3 device.


Picture: The Mavic 3 Pro drone is deployed by both Russian and Ukrainian troops to target the enemy


“Drones are the future of war,” he says slowly. “They are the most practical and show very good results – attacking assault units and even for defence.” It is made in China and top end models can cost up to €3,000 in commercial retailers.


But David fears they will become scarce in Ukraine as Beijing and Moscow have forged a “no-limits” partnership in trade.


“I think they will be harder for us to get as Russia and China get closer.


"We’ll see.”

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