KYIV — The Ukrainian Air Force shot down a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection and control airplane and an IL-22 command plane over the Sea of Azov on Sunday evening, Ukrainian Army Commander in Chief Valery Zaluzhny said in a statement.
"I am grateful to the air force for the perfectly planned and executed operation in the Azov Sea region!" he said.
According to the earlier reports the A-50 was downed, while the IL-22 could have managed to land somewhere in Russia. Russian pro-war channels claimed that the IL-22 managed to land, but there were wounded on board.
Even though the Kremlin has not confirmed it yet, Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said in a cryptic message: “This is for Dnipro, monsters. Burn in hell! Can’t provide details yet.”
He illustrated his message with a plane emoji and a photo of a civilian building that Russians hit with a missile in Dnipro on January 14 last year, killing more than 30 people.
Yuriy Mysiahin, a Ukrainian MP and a member of the parliament's defense committee, had more details. According to his statement, around 9 p.m. on Sunday, Ukrainian forces fired at two Russian military aircraft — an A-50 and an IL-22, which was shadowing the radar plane as both were flying over the Sea of Azov.
“The A-50 was shot down, and the IL-22M was damaged, but it was in the air and tried to reach the nearest airfield, but it disappeared from the radar after the descent began, in the Kerch area of Crimea,” Mysiahin said in a statement.
Russian pro-war telegram channels so far are divided on what happened over Azov. Some, like Russian aviation blogger and military pilot Fighterbomber were “mourning the tragedy” while channels like Rybar said that “if the downing is confirmed ... this will be another black day for the Russian Air Force and Air Defense Forces."
“A tragedy is always a tragedy especially when it is of such a scale. Who is to blame for the deaths of the pilots, we will most likely never find out. To the dead I wish the eternal flight, to the wounded, a speedy recovery and return to service,” Fighterbomber said.
A-50 is a high-value target; it is a four-engine jet-propelled aircraft, equipped with a rotating radar that scans 360 degrees, detecting radars and potential targets in the air and on land. It has a 15-person crew. According to different estimates, Russia had between 10 and 12 of the radar planes as of 2022. In March 2023, Ukrainian saboteurs damaged one A-50 parked on an airfield in Machulishchi, Belarus with a drone.
“In simple words, this is a powerful radar that can detect targets at a 200-400 km distance as it is raised by an aircraft to a height of up to 12 km. The radar sees much further than ground stations,” Ukrainian aviation expert and blogger Vitaly Trubnikov told POLITICO.
“A-50 can transmit the coordinates of targets to fighters whose radar is less powerful and cannot see at such distances. Also, it can conduct radio-electronic reconnaissance (EPR), for example, detect the coordinates of enemy ground radars. It is also equipped with electronic warfare equipment. In addition to all this, a specially trained crew that knows how to manage all this complex and expensive equipment is also valuable,” he added.