Bayraktar drones can be based 150 km from the frontline and are able to fly for 24 hours. Image by Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
Ukraine’s army has for the first time used the Turkish-produced strike drone Bayraktar TB2 against combined Russian-separatist forces in Donbas. A video of the strike was shared by Ukraine’s General Staff:
The Staff informed that the Russian-separatist army had shelled Ukrainian positions near Hranitne from D30 howitzers between 14:25 and 15:15 on 26 October, as a result of which two Ukrainian soldiers were injured, one of whom died. With the start of the shelling, the Staff informed, Ukraine demanded through the OSCE SMM that the enemy cease fire, and a note was sent through diplomatic channels, yet this received no response.
Military blogger Roman Donik was the first to report about the incident, stating that Russian-separatist media had for several days before the incident circulated reports that the Ukrainian forces breached the demarcation line established by the Minsk protocols and that Russian-separatist forces shelled Hranitne from over 15 km away, which made identifying their positions impossible.
The video shows a rocket or grenade hitting an artillery system standing in battle position in a field; the soldiers manning them managed to escape. Then the camera zooms out and indeed a battery of artillery systems resembling D30 howitzers are visible.
Journalist Yuriy Butusov reported, citing his sources, that the Russian-separatist forces could neither identify nor shoot down the Bayraktar drone.
Russian media and the "people's militia" of the breakaway statelets of Donbas, in their turn, declare an escalation from the side of Ukraine; the Russian state RIA Novosti reported that the Ukrainian army took under control the village of Staromariyivka, which is located in the "gray zone" dividing the opposing forces.
However, the press center of the Ukrainian forces denies taking this village.
Ukraine purchased Baykatar strike drones from Turkey in 2019. The drones allow strikes high-precision bombs in an 8-kilometer radius and can carry a maximum payload of 150 kg. They are currently used by Turkey, Ukraine, Qatar, and Azerbaijan.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry and Turkey's Baykar Savunma signed a memorandum of cooperation on September 29, according to which the drones will be produced in Ukraine.
Strike drones have been used extensively by the Russian-separatist side in Donbas. Military journalist Nolan Peterson calls the prevalence of Russian drones, which carry out targeted strikes with dropped hand grenades and land mines, "the most significant change in the war" as of late. His recent frontline report mentions that the Ukrainian army has become "drone conscious" in response, employing camouflage and avoiding gathering in groups outside. It also mentions that front-line units are reportedly not allowed to fly drones past the contact line and over enemy territory. If military expert Volodymyr Zablotskyi is right, Ukraine abided by these rules: the drone fired while flying above Ukrainian territory.
The conflict between Ukrainian forces and two breakaway entities in the country's east, the Donetsk and Luhansk "People's Republics," has been ongoing since 2014. Russia denies its involvement, but there is ample evidence it provides training, military equipment, and funds for the operation of the "republics." As well, according to Ukrainian intelligence, there is a number of Russian military regulars fighting in the ranks of the forces of the "republics."