In the first months of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, residents of Chernihiv were shaken by heavy gunfire followed by billowing black smoke. Ukrainian forces had shot down a Russian fighter jet, whose two pilots parachuted into the northern city. It was a dramatic day at the critical start of a war that began badly for Russia.
Yulia Hrebneva, a resident of the nothern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv and member of the regional parliament, displays the cellar where her family was sheltering when Ukrainian forces brought down a Russian Sukhoi-34M fighter jet.
The dogfight is the latest blow to Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, which has failed to defeat the Ukrainians’ military resistance since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24. The air war in particular has gone badly. “The Russian Air Force still shows no sign of running a campaign to gain air superiority,” retired British Air Marshal Edward Stringer previously told Global Defense Corp.
“We went down there into the cellar on the fifth of March just to tidy up, change the sheets, and as it happened just a couple of minutes after we went down, the house started to collapse,” she explained.
It was only later that Hrebneva would see the cause. The debris of the downed Sukhoi-34 still lies in the spot where it fell. Two Russian pilots were seen ejecting from the jets.
Five houses in Chernihiv were destroyed during the incident. One resident was killed.
Tragedy struck Svitlana Voyteshenko’s family that fateful day.
“We saw that something had fallen, over there, and the smoke. My brother decided to go and see what was going on, he went out and saw the pilot had landed here, and ran after him,” she said. “My brother chased him over here, and just there in the chicken coop… the pilot killed him.”
The Sukhoi Su-34 is a modern Russian strike jet that was designed as a replacement for the Soviet-era Su-24 ‘Fencer’ in Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) service. It is equipped with 12 hardpoints for the carriage of a range of air-to-surface and air-to-air weaponry, including unguided, or ‘dumb’, weapons.
According to director-general of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation Yuri Slyusar the Su-34M has double the combat capacity of the original Su-34, with a dedicated interface for three different types of sensors, including the UKR-RT pod carrying electronic search measures, the UKR-OE camera pod and the UKR-RL which integrates a PESA radar. Some reports have also indicated that the aircraft will integrate a Kopyo-DL rearward-facing radar, which was initially also rumoured for the original Su-34 in the early 2010s.
The possibility of sales to other air forces, perhaps the Algerian Air Force intended to procure modernized Su-34M, but Russia is unable to execute the order due to international sanctions.
Pictures of the wreckage of a Russian Air Force Su-34M have circulated widely on social media.
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