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Ukraine claims to have destroyed Russian warplanes in one of the largest drone attacks of the war

Ukraine claims to have destroyed Russian warplanes in one of the largest drone attacks of the war

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials claimed Friday that they used a barrage of drones to destroy at least six military aircraft and seriously damage eight others at an airport in Russia's Rostov region. However, Russian defense officials claimed to have intercepted 44 Ukrainian drones and that only an electrical substation was damaged in the attack.

The Associated Press was unable to independently verify either side's claims.

Ukrainian intelligence officials told the Associated Press that the overnight attack targeted a military airport near Morozovsk in Russia and was carried out by the Ukrainian Security Service in cooperation with the army.

They added that about 20 airport personnel were killed or injured. The officials said Morozovsk Airport was used by Russian bombers that launched guided aerial bombs on Ukrainian cities and front-line positions.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the process publicly.

If true, the attack would be among the most successful cross-border attacks in Ukraine. Last October, Ukraine announced that it had destroyed nine Russian helicopters at two airports in Russian-occupied areas using long-range ballistic missiles donated by the United States.

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Last August, Ukrainian media, citing anonymous intelligence sources, claimed that drone attacks had hit Russian bomber planes parked at air bases deep inside Russia.

In a conflicting version of events, the Russian Defense Ministry said that 44 drones were “intercepted and destroyed” in the Morozovsky region, more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border. Rostov Governor Vasily Golubev said the attack damaged a power substation, adding that eight people near the airport were injured.

Usually informed Russian military bloggers confirmed an attempted Ukrainian drone attack on a military air base in Morozovsk, but claimed that there were no casualties at the base and no damage to the warplanes.

Nine more drones were intercepted over the Kursk, Belgorod and Krasnodar border regions and the nearby Saratov region, bringing the total of attack drones deployed by Ukraine overnight to 53, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Drone warfare is a major feature of the war, which has spanned the third year since Russia's large-scale invasion of its neighbour. On the 1,000-kilometre-long front line, where fighting is largely stalled, both sides are using low-cost drones to destroy expensive military equipment.

Kremlin forces have used large numbers of Iranian-designed Shahed drones to bomb urban areas in Ukraine. In contrast, Kiev has developed a small but rapidly growing defense industry, where drones, including unmanned killer naval vessels, have proven effective.

Russian authorities have long accused Ukraine of launching regular drone attacks on power plants, oil refineries and other targets in the western regions of Russia near the border. Russia said that last month, Ukraine launched a barrage of 35 drones at such targets. Some attacks reached deep into Russia, including Moscow, and up to 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) east of Ukraine.

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However, Ukraine cannot match the size of the Russian army. Last week, Moscow launched a massive barrage of 99 drones and missiles against Ukraine's energy infrastructure, hitting areas across the country.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Air Force said it intercepted 13 Russian drones launched overnight into the southern regions of Odessa, Zaporizhia and Dnipropetrovsk, but five missiles were able to penetrate them. The authorities did not announce any casualties.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he held a meeting with his senior officers that focused on producing attack drones and manufacturing electronic warfare equipment to intercept incoming drones.

He said late Thursday that the meeting brought together “clear written agreements with manufacturers, clear financing and clear delivery dates.”

He added that the authorities will then turn to “strong and increasing” missile production because military support from Western partners does not live up to what Kiev had hoped for.

Zelensky said that an assessment of positions on the front lines found that Ukraine “was able to stabilize our positions” despite the Russian army being outgunned and outnumbered.

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Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine