Ukrainian Mi-24P at a field base.
Ukrainian Offensive, Prigozhin Coup
Text: Miro Barič
Photos: Ukrainian armed forces, social media and other public sources
June was an extremely hot month in Ukraine, and we’re not referring to global warming. Events unfolded on the front lines that laid the groundwork for significant changes in the future – not only for Ukraine but also for Russia. The Ukrainian offensive began, which, though seemingly progressing slowly, was steady. In Russia, the Wagner Group revolted, but they quickly changed their minds, yet the regime remained shaken. Things were set in motion.
In this part of the series, we’ll follow events from June 1 to July 1, but first, let’s revisit an event from the previous period. On May 13, an attack group of Russian aircraft, consisting of Su-34, Su-35, and 2 × Mi-8 helicopters, was shot down in the Bryansk region near the Ukrainian border. When the previous part was being completed, the exact details of what happened had not been confirmed, and various possibilities were being considered. However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces later released a video in which they boasted of their successes in air defense. The footage showed a Patriot system with markings indicating the score, confirming that they were responsible for that mentioned Russian group. On the side, there are painted silhouettes of aircraft and helicopters with the date May 13. By the way, they have three Mi-8 helicopters painted there, but officially only two were confirmed. The Ukrainians, therefore, claim one more. It is possible that the Russian group at that time consisted of two Mi-8MTPR-1 helicopters for electronic warfare and a third Mi-8 prepared for search and rescue in case of the attack bomber being shot down.
In addition to this group, the aforementioned Patriot system has an impressive collection of missiles, including Kinzhals, missiles with a low flight path, and drones painted on its side. The Ukrainians also demonstrated decent scores against the S-300 and NASAMS systems.
The Patriot system excelled, especially during the intensive attacks on Kyiv in May. The Russian shelling of the capital decreased in June. They probably realized that their attacks were just wasting rockets - but officially, they accomplished their mission because, according to Putin’ְs words, they destroyed five or six Patriot systems near Kyiv. Never mind that Ukraine received only two of them ...
Shot of the Patriot system in a video released by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Detail showing silhouettes of two aircraft and three Mi-8 helicopters with the date May 13, 2023.
NASAMS system score.
The S-300 battery marked with four aircraft, 21 missiles with a flat flight path, and 15 rockets kills.
Another reason for shifting the Russian command’s attention away from Kyiv was the Ukrainian counteroffensive. After prolonged anticipation, it began in early June in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian Armed Forces started pushing in three directions – from Velyka Novosilka near Vuhledar towards Mariupol, from Orikhiv towards Tokmak and Melitopol, and near Lobova on the banks of the Kakhovka Reservoir.
For Russian propaganda, this was a welcome change. In anticipation of the Ukrainian offensive, they began publishing various false footage of Western military equipment being destroyed. There was an instance of using a photo of a destroyed Turkish Leopard 2 tank from Syria and a video of a Russian helicopter destroying combine harvesters and other agricultural machinery that didn't resemble tanks at all. After the actual start of the Ukrainian offensive, true losses of Western equipment were, of course, revealed.
The Russians had been building fortifications in southern Ukraine for almost a year. These include several lines of trenches and, most importantly, extensive minefields. These minefields proved to be the most challenging obstacle. In one attack attempt, a group of Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and several Leopard 2 tanks got stuck on the mines. The Russians filmed this group from multiple angles and repeatedly published the footage until the Ukrainians made progress and withdrew the damaged vehicles for repair. Unlike Russian equipment, Western military vehicles fulfill their primary purpose – protecting the crew. Most Leopard and Bradley machines did not explode after being hit; their crews survived, and the vehicles can be repaired later.
Although the Ukrainian advance is slow, it is steady – they have liberated more territory in a month than the Russians occupied during their winter offensive in six months. In addition to the mines, Russian helicopters initially slowed down the Ukrainians. Ka-52 helicopters were deployed to perform long-range missile strikes on enemy equipment since the Ukrainian side couldn't get air defense systems close enough to the frontlines, and portable Stinger missiles have limited range. The Ukrainians reported shooting down one to two Ka-52 helicopters almost daily, but only one was officially confirmed. The confirmed one was captured on video flying with a damaged tail. The Russian side claimed that the tail was damaged due to the firing of their own missile, but this is unlikely. It is more plausible that it was hit by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile. Thanks to its two counter-rotating rotors, the helicopter was able to continue flying and make an emergency landing.
The Ka-52 helicopters primarily operated from the Berdiansk base, where satellite imagery captured them. However, for unknown reasons, the Ukrainians attacked this airfield only on June 30, several weeks after the satellite imagery was published. Prior to that, they had repeatedly targeted other military facilities in Berdiansk with Storm Shadow missiles. After the airfield attack, Russian helicopters departed from there, and their activity on the frontlines decreased. The reduction in activity is also related to the change in Ukrainian tactics – they deploy less equipment on the front lines and use consequent infantry attacks in groups. This lack of targets makes it impractical for the Ka-52s to risk further losses. At least 39 helicopters of this type have been destroyed during the war in Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the offensive, the Ukrainian advance has been supported by strong artillery and missile attacks. These attacks not only destroy Russian trenches but also target logistical and command centers in the rear, as well as Russian artillery. Last summer, Russian artillery played a significant role in their offensive, but now it’s merely a shadow of what it used to be.
If there were no war, this shot of the Mi-8 on a field base would be downright idyllic. Notice the machine gun in the helicopter’s nose.
Russian Ka-52 helicopter with a damaged tail was captured on video on June 19.
However, what significantly altered Ukrainian plans was the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam on the Dnieper River. Its 3.2 km long wall exploded in the central part early in the morning on June 6, just two days after the start of the Ukrainian offensive. The dam held back over 18 cubic kilometers of water, which flooded the city of Kherson and another 40 villages downstream on both sides of the Dnieper. Approximately 60 civilians lost their lives, and the floodwaters took several days to recede.
Although both sides blamed each other for the dam’s explosion, it is certain that the Russians had control over it. The massive dam could not be threatened from the outside with weapons accessible to Ukraine; it had to be destroyed by an explosion from inside the dam, where only the Russians had access. They blew it up to prevent the Ukrainians from attempting to cross the river. The flooded and waterlogged areas made it impossible for some time.
However, the result is also a huge environmental disaster. A significant amount of chemicals has been released into the river and subsequently into the sea, causing the death of many animals. What is even worse, four irrigation canals that were fed by the dam have dried up. This will negatively affect agricultural production and access to drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people for many years.
The emptying of the Kakhovka Dam also poses a threat to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The dam water also served as a reservoir for cooling the nuclear reactors. Furthermore, the Russian forces have laid mines in the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant complex and are refusing to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into some areas.
The destruction of the Kachovska dam caused enormous damage.
After all the events in Ukraine, the Russians turned against each other. On the evening of June 23, an attempted coup by the Wagner Group mercenaries began. Its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, called it the "March of Justice," citing alleged shelling of the base of mercenaries in eastern Ukraine by the Russian army, which tried to take control of the group. In reality, Prigozhin had been planning this uprising for a long time and had been amassing vehicles, ammunition, and fuel for it, as western intelligence agencies discovered from satellite images.
Prigozhin’s goal was to capture Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov at the command center in Rostov, near the Ukrainian border, both of whom he had publicly criticized for a long time. However, Shoigu and Gerasimov managed to escape Rostov in time. Prigozhin only caught their deputies at the command center. The Wagner Group occupied Rostov and subsequently started advancing towards Moscow on Saturday, June 24th. They took over Voronezh and got within about 200 km of the capital. Their columns faced little resistance on the ground, as their path was only obstructed by roadblocks that could be easily overcome.
Mi-8MTPR-1 shot down by the Wagner Group on June 24 in the Voronezh region.
The Russian Air Force attempted to resist. Helicopters, for instance, destroyed a fuel depot in Voronezh, which the Wagner Group had occupied. However, the mercenaries also had air defense systems, which caused another bleak day for the Russian Air Force. Six helicopters and one airplane were destroyed, and according to various sources, 15 to 30 of their crew members lost their lives.
Two shot-down attack helicopters were Mi-35 and Ka-52, and four Mi-8 helicopters included three Mi-8MPTR-1 versions for radio-electronic warfare. The destroyed plane was an IL-22M, a flying command post based on the transport aircraft Il-18. The aircraft belonged to the 610th Combat Training and Conversion Aviation Center located in Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow. The dramatic video captured the aircraft's last moments. The burning plane spiraled violently as it crashed, resulting in its tail, wing parts, and two external engines being torn off. The entire crew of ten people perished. The names of eight of them were released - Lieutenant Colonel Artem Milovanov (43), the deputy chief of the mentioned 610th center, Captain Artem Sharoglazov (31), the aircraft commander, Major Gennady Belyakin (50), the navigator, Captain Viktor Polov (43), the flight engineer, Captain Igor Volochilov (49), the airborne technician, Senior Warrant Officer Sergey Starushok (49), the airborne radio operator, Senior Sergeant Viktor Podrepny (42), the airborne radio operator, and Senior Sergeant Alexey Skrykov (29), the airborne mechanic. Most of them were buried together in Ivanovo, while Milovanov was buried separately in Tambov.
Ka-52 registered RF-13418 with bort number “yellow 72” from the 15th brigade of the Russian Army Aviation was shot down by the Wagner Group on June 24th near the village of Komintern in the Voronezh region. Lieutenant Colonel Alexey Vorozhtsov and Lieutenant Denis Oleynikov were killed.
End of the Coup
The Wagner Group was advancing towards Moscow smoothly until the evening of June 24, when Prigozhin ordered them to halt and retreat. The next day, they also left Rostov, which they had fully controlled. Allegedly, the agreement to stop the action was brokered by Belarusian dictator Lukashenko in exchange for impunity for the Wagner Group and their exile in Belarus. Putin agreed to it, although he had declared in a morning TV speech that severe punishment awaited the rebels.
Paradoxically, it turned out that in Russia, you can drive tanks, occupy government buildings in cities, and shoot down aircraft and helicopters of the Russian Air Force without any consequences officially. However, if you try to protest against the war or even hold up a blank piece of paper without any inscription in public, you may be imprisoned for several years on charges of extremism ...
It is likely that Prigozhin hoped that a portion of the army would join him or that he could sway part of the population to his side. He also wanted to capture Shoigu and Gerasimov and use them as hostages. None of this worked out for him, so he decided to retreat.
A side effect of this action is that the Wagner Group is no longer fighting at Bachmut or anywhere else in Ukraine. The Ukrainian army is advancing north and south of Bachmut, trying to encircle the city. After averting the coup, purges also began in the Russian army. Several generals and other officers were dismissed, transferred, or arrested and interrogated.
Burning Il-22M shortly before crashing into the ground. The tail, the outer wing parts, and both outer engines were torn off during the fall.
wreckage of the Il-22M carrying the registration RF-75917 near Kantemirovka in
the Voronezh region. It was also shot down by the Wagner Group on June 24th.
Funeral of the Il-22M crew in Ivanovo.
Further Russian Losses
In addition to the helicopters and aircraft destroyed during Prigozhin’s coup, the Russian Air Force suffered more losses. On Thursday, June 22, a Russian Mi-24P helicopter with the registration RF-92501 and bort number “Red 27” crashed near the village of Lesnaya in the Brest Region of Belarus. The helicopter went down on the edge of a forest beside the road, and all three crew members were injured.
On Friday, June 23, in the Luhansk Region, a Mi-8MPTR-1 helicopter was shot down. Out of the four crew members, only one managed to parachute to safety. The other three perished, and one of them was identified as officer Kirill Babayev.
On Thursday, June 29, soldiers of the Ukrainian 10th Mountain Assault Brigade successfully used a portable Igla missile to shoot down a Russian Su-25 attack aircraft. The hit was captured on video. The Ukrainians also claimed to have shot down another Su-25 on Wednesday, June 7, but that one remains unconfirmed.
During the observed period, previously unknown footage of destroyed aircraft from both sides emerged. For example, the wreckage of a helicopter, likely a Ka-52, destroyed on the ground during a Ukrainian rocket attack on the Melitopol base on September 1, 2022, was captured on video. It was filmed by a crew member of another Russian helicopter during takeoff from that base.
Mi-24P carrying the registration RF-92501 and bort number “red 27” crashed on June 22 in Belarus.
A new shot of the wreckage of the Su-34, which was shot down last year in May on the banks of the Oskil River near Izyum.
Shots of the Ka-52, which was destroyed last year in September at the Melitopol airbase.
During the observed period, the Ukrainian Air Force suffered two confirmed losses. On Friday, June 2nd, a MiG-29 was shot down near Pokrovsk in the Donetsk Region. It was piloted by Major Vladyslav Saveliev with the call sign “Nomad” from the 114th Tactical Aviation Brigade. He had previously participated in a U.S. training program at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. Unfortunately, he did not survive the destruction of his fighter jet.
In the Kharkiv Region, on Friday, June 9, a Mi-8 helicopter from the 18th Independent Army Aviation Brigade of the Ukrainian Army was lost under unknown circumstances. At least one crew member, Lieutenant Vladyslav Zozulya, did not survive the accident.
Tragically, civilian populations in Ukraine have also suffered losses. An example is the attack on a pizzeria in the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, where Russian rockets struck on Tuesday, June 27, killing 13 people. Among the victims were three children, including 14-year-old twin sisters. Writer Viktoria Amelina, who was injured in the attack, succumbed to her injuries a few days later. Ukrainian forces detained an informant responsible for providing the Russians with coordinates for the attack. The Russians claimed that they targeted a military objective and killed 200 foreign mercenaries and 50 Ukrainian generals and high-ranking officers. However, the casualties reported were highly exaggerated and implausible for the size of a pizzeria.
In June, there were also increasing discussions about the possible training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. This initiative, which required significant efforts from both sides and considerable funding, came late in the conflict (considering the ongoing offensive without air cover). Some argue that it would be more pertinent to invest in artillery and missile munitions and enhance air defense capabilities. More on this topic will be covered in the next part of the series.
Mi-24 helicopter delivered to Ukraine from the Czech Republic.
This Mi-14PS carrying the bort number “yellow 34”; from the 10th brigade of the Ukrainian Naval Aviation was shot down last year in May by a Russian Su-35S fighter in the Odessa region. Photos of its wreckage surfaced only recently.