Three MI-8 attack helicopters take off from a secret base in Ukraine and fly low towards their target near Bakhmut, where fighting against Russian forces has been raging for months.
As they approach the target, one by one, the planes suddenly rise, fire a salvo, spin rapidly, and return to their base, always at a very low altitude.
Petro, one of the pilots, told AFP after his 30-minute mission that the target was “in the enemy’s fortification line, consisting of ground soldiers, armored vehicles and an ammunition depot.”
The goal was close Severodonetska town captured by the Moscow army last spring, located northeast of Bakhmut, where it resists Kiev forces but is practically surrounded.
Since the Russian invasion just over a year ago, pilots Ukrainian helicopters They carry out dangerous missions every day with their old MI-8 and MI-24.
Pietro, 23, already has fifty combat missions behind him. «Before the trip we choose the itinerary We use special applications to browse as few points as possible. For example, if we see an altitude of 180 meters, it is too high, so we look for the low places, and we find 130 meters, 100 meters … “, the pilot explains.
“The goal is to fly lower than the level of the main scene so it’s not visible on Russian radars, so they don’t know we’re up until the last minute,” he continues, donning his pilot’s jacket and mask. This leaves only the eyes of the discoverers.
In some great images recorded by the AFP camera placed in the cockpit throughout the mission, landscapes follow one another in The speed is about 200 km / h And a few meters below the cockpit. The device suddenly rises only for a brief moment when the shot is activated against the target, which is programmed at a distance of 6,100 metres.
The way back is different from the way out “so as not to fall into the trap”
“When we are 6,200 meters from the target, we climb 20 steps (…) and then fire the missiles, 15 on each side,” he explained.
the Ammo They are in fixed recesses on the right and left borders of the chopper. In the images recorded from the device, the black smoke left by the missiles after they were fired can be seen. Immediately after that, the helicopter makes about a half turn to the left and resumes its flight at a lower altitude. The way back differs from the way out, “so as not to fall into a trap” and hit the Russian anti-aircraft defense, says Petro.
On the front line, infantry units launch a drone to check that the target has been hit. If not, “corrections will be made for a new shot,” says the pilot.
The most difficult task
His most difficult assignment was on March 6, 2022 in the area Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine. “We were four helicopters, and the target was a long convoy of military vehicles,” which was heading to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which is now owned by Russia, he added.
“We saw the target at a distance of about two kilometers. We had information that it was not moving, but in fact it was moving, and we saw it suddenly, “and they fired,” Petro recalls. “Two helicopters were destroyed, the third was damaged, and I was lucky to be in the fourth. I have not (…) Only two of us got back to baseHe says, still shocked by these facts.
Since the beginning of the conflict, about thirty Ukrainian pilots have lost their lives, according to a military source. For Petro, the hardest thing is getting ready, “because you don’t know the landscape before the trip, you’re not sure of anything.” “Once we start the engine, the fear goes away, because we’ve been trained for it, we trust ourselves,” he adds.
On social media, videos of Ukrainian helicopters on mission are widely shared and the pilots are seen as heroes.
But Pietro believes above all in the soldiers who “suffer more than us, though they greet and cheer us from the ground.” They are in a permanent position. Although we are taking great risks, we need a little time to complete the task. When I see the guys on the ground cheering for us, I know exactly why I’m here.”