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Ukrainian military drone operator: it is crucial for Ukraine to keep attacking

Sobchenko drone operator Ukraine army
Ukrainian military drone operator Oleh Sobchenko with one of his “birds.” Photo from Sobchenko’s fb page
Ukrainian military drone operator: it is crucial for Ukraine to keep attacking
Article by: Andriy Harasym
Translated by: Adaptation by Oleksii Dereza
Edited by: Alya Shandra
The Ukrainian outlet Texty spoke with Oleh Sobchenko, a Ukrainian military drone operator whose drones help Ukrainian artillery find exact Russian positions. Sobchenko explained how the Russian troops no longer behave like suicide bombers, how Ukraine still lacks something like the Orlan drones with German engines used by Russia, and why it’s crucial for Ukraine to not stop fighting now.

Oleh Sobchenko, who together with former Ukrainian deputy Ihor Lutsenko is engaged in aerial reconnaissance in one of the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, explained how each day they launch their drone to provide the Ukrainian artillery with exact coordinates for strikes:

“We are engaged in the search, and detection of enemy equipment and manpower. We show the videos to artillerymen and correct fire.

Our army is already heavily armed with drones. But there is one problem – those who have experience in operating them do not have combat experience, and those who have combat experience on the front line do not know how to use drones very well. So they either expose themselves to unnecessary danger by trying to get as close to the enemy positions as possible, or they lose the drone and wait for weeks for a new one to arrive.

As for our team with Ihor Lutsenko – we have a great combination of drone control experience and combat experience: we can control the equipment and go where the troops go. That’s why we are loved and appreciated (laughs). The drones are provided to us mostly by volunteers. We need a lot of drones, they get lost regularly – they get shot down, they don’t make it home due to breakdowns. But we also do a lot of work.

For the Russians, we are the number two target after the commanders. They are well aware that we are the ones determining their positions for shelling, in short, causing them a lot of problems. The Russians, of course, try to fight us.”

According to Oleh Sobchenko, Russians use electronic warfare units to jam the GPS signal. This is a big problem for inexperienced drone operators. After that, they cannot return the drones home.

Drones ukrainian army
An image shot from a drone. Photo from Sobchenko’s FB page

Russian Orlan drones

Oleg Sobchenko said the Russians mainly carry out reconnaissance by Orlan drones, which use internal combustion engines. Experts from the Conflict Armament Research think tank found that Russian Orlan drones, which are used to correct and organize shelling of Ukrainian positions, use a 3W-55i single-cylinder engine manufactured by the German company 3W-Modellmotoren Weinhold GmbH, based in Hanau, Hesse.

“They really annoy our troops quite a lot, because they pass data on where our equipment is, about our positions. Russian troops are quite saturated with such devices. Orlans are made with the use of imported parts, they have has an internal combustion engine, and rumble like a scooter. It is thanks to these sounds that you can understand that it is flying somewhere nearby. But on gas, it can fly for half a day. We still lack such equipment.”

Kamikaze drones for Ukraine

Sobchenko believes that self-destructing kamikaze drones, small unmanned aircraft packed with explosives that crash into targets such as tanks in “kamikaze” fashion, that the US and UK have recently announced will be shipped to Ukraine, are coming at the right time.

“We really need them. The enemy is beginning to hide its equipment, a lot of enemy equipment is now in buildings where it is impossible to cover it with artillery, and such drones would be very useful here.”

drone army ukraine russia war
A Russian IFV struck by Ukrainian artillery as a result of correction of fire by a drone operated by Sobchenko. Photo from Sobchenko’s FB page

The Russians are changing tactics

In the weeks that have passed since the start of the invasion, the Russians have changed their tactics, abanding incessant attacks and entrenching themselves in positions of defense that help their positions.

“Now the Russians are really beginning to change their tactics. For a week now they have been actively entrenching and taking up their positions, like for defense. Before that they were incessantly attacking, trying to pass forward, but now they are entrenched for defense in positions that are advantageous to them. Then the artillery and the command and observation posts were taken away from our attacks to their rear. In the first days of the war, Ukrainian artillerymen just did not have enough people to fulfill all the tasks that we gave them. We gave them whole packs of targets and they destroyed them in packs. That’s not usually the way it’s supposed to be. For example, a mortar battery would arrive, hit one target, and then move to another location. In the early days, two or three targets were hit from the same place at once.”

Ukraine Russian invasion drones
Aerial reconaissance officers Oleh Sobchenko and Ihor Lutsenko. Photo from Sobchenko’s FB page

Interestingly, after the bombardment, the Russian units would retreat, and then new units would move into the same place. Every day they were moved to some place, and we could fight them on the same field for a whole week. It was impossible to understand why they were doing that. The impression was that they were pure suicide bombers. They don’t do that anymore (laughs). Those who have survived have become a little smarter and are on the defensive, stretching out in small forces, with weapons, as we do, so they get hit less, while the main forces fall back, regroup.

A few days ago we liberated the village of Moshchun. There we were opposed by Russian paratroopers — perhaps the most capable and nasty segment of our enemy today. But we also destroyed them. They gathered the most capable units here, north of Kyiv, and most of them died. And now they have almost no motivated, capable infantry. All these conscripts that they are trying to throw into battle now – we see how they surrender themselves in packs every day. Little by little, where possible, we take the villages back.

As for the Russian Air Force, after they were actively shot down, they are very afraid to fly where there is at least some of our air defense. Now they mostly fly over the occupied territories – they take off, shoot, and that’s it. And even with these tactics, they suffered further losses. Every day casualties. I think these pilots don’t really want to fly now.”

Kleptocrats in ushankas

Sobchenko confirms recent Ukrainian General Staff reports that widespread theft in the Russian army has undermined the Russians’ plans to use equipment that was in storage: because the electronic components were stolen, the military reserves have been in most cases rendered unusable. The Russian propensity for kleptocracy was evident in the military equipment that Sobchenko’s unit shot down.

“Now presumably they want to use their old equipment that was in storage. But let’s not forget the kleptocracy they have there [in Russia]. Once our unit took down two of their “Nonas” [gun mortars]. There was little left of them, but in what we found, every detail, every screw was wrapped with thread that had a numbered tag attached to it, with a signature of those responsible for storage. Because they steal their own stuff that is badly attached or screwed down. So all the bags were signed, and even a piece of paper with the name of its owner was taped to the spoon so that no one would steal the spoon. Well, it goes the same for their uniforms. Elite troops who fought in rubber boots and ushanka hats.”

Most importantly, Ukraine must not stop 

Ukraine Russian invasion drones
Russian military equipment was struck by Ukrainian artillery in the result of correction of fire by a drone operated by Sobchenko. Photo from Sobchenko’s FB page

Positional warfare is something Ukraine must avoid at all costs, Sobchenko says, calling to keep attacking Russian supply routes and unblocking the besieged city of Mariupol, which is now surrounded by Russian forces.

“The main thing for us is not to stop and break their supply routes. If we stop, there will be positional warfare, which is not to our advantage. Right now, there are a lot of people willing to form small strike groups and create observation groups to destroy their columns of equipment. Of course, standing on defense means less manpower loss than attacking. But then it could last for years, and there is also the danger that they will regroup, mobilize, and eventually learn something. It is necessary to destroy them right now, and of course, to clear a path to Mariupol to unblock it. I am very much a supporter of that city, I started fighting there in 2014.”


Translated by: Adaptation by Oleksii Dereza
Edited by: Alya Shandra
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