On February 27-28, 2023, Russian news sources began reporting what appeared to be several separate sightings of Ukrainian-made drones across Russia.
The most widely covered sighting involved an alleged Ukrjet UJ-22 drone, reportedly found approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Moscow.
At the same time several explosions at oil depots and air bases across Western Russia were also reported. In addition, there were reports of Ukrainian drone sightings in Belgorod, Krasnodar and other regions.
Could this have been the first large-scale Ukrainian drone attack on Russian territory? And if so, what was the extent of the attack as well as its targets and consequences? Here is everything we know so far.
Drone near Moscow
During the afternoon of February 28, the governor of Moscow region Andrei Vorobyev said that an unidentified drone had crashed near the village of Gubastovo, Kolomensky District.
Several hours later, Russian news channels started to post photos of the crash on Telegram, showing what appears to be a Ukrjet UJ-22. The images showed the drone with signs of heavy damage, including snapped wings and tail, indicating that the drone had either crashed or been shot down.
According to the manufacturer, the drone has an autonomous flight range of 800 kilometers (500 miles) and can carry up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of payload.
In the morning of March 1, 2023, the Russian Federal Security Service said that two kilograms (four pounds) of explosives were found inside the drone, according to Russian media reports.
Earlier reports suggested that the drone had crashed approximately 100 meters (330 feet) from a major gas compressor station, located in the village of Gubastovo.
Crashes in Belgorod
On the evening of February 27, Vechyaslav Gladkov, the governor of the Russian region of Belgorod, said that three drones crashed in the city of Belgorod, causing minor damage to several houses. On the morning of February 28, local media said that a fourth drone had been found.
At the same time unconfirmed photos of the crashed drones, as well as video footage of the drones still in flight, began to appear across Russian social media channels. These appeared to be small, fixed-wing drones of an undetermined model.
At least one drone appears to have carried several blocks of UK-manufactured PE8 plastic explosives inside it.
Two of the crashes can be geolocated within several blocks of each other, in the central part of the city. One of the drones fell in a courtyard of an apartment building on Sadovaya st. 28, damaging several cars. Another crashed into a window of a residential building on Popova st. 102.
In one video, a drone can be seen flying above some buildings. The footage appeared to have been filmed in the parking lot of Magnit department store on Popova st. 76А, in central Belgorod, just south of Popova st. 102, and is likely the same drone that later crashed through the window.
The fourth drone fell on the roof of Leon shopping mall approximately one kilometer southwest of the other crash sites, starting a fire.
Belgorod, located approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Ukrainian border, has been the target of several previous alleged attacks. In April 2022 an attack, possibly performed by Ukrainian Mil Mi-24 gunships on an oil depot south of the city, was filmed.
The target of the latest attack is currently unknown.
Fires near Krasnodar
On the night between February 27 and 28 a fire broke out at an oil depot in the city of Tuapse, located in the region of Krasnodar. The city is located on the Eastern shore of the Black Sea, approximately 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Local authorities said the fire was caused by two drones striking the depot’s oil reservoirs, according to Russian news service RIA Novosti. The fire was quickly extinguished, the authorities said.
On February 28 local media reported that two Ukrainian drones had been found in the autonomous republic of Adygea, south of Krasnodar. The drones had been intercepted and attacked using electronic warfare, according to local authorities. One of the drones fell in a field, while another damaged a civilian building, the reports added.
Unconfirmed security camera footage, which was shared across Russian social media networks, reportedly shows the moment one of them crashed, before detonating and damaging nearby buildings.
Photos of the crash site show jet engine parts, possibly belonging to a Ukrainian Tu-141 or Tu-143 target drone. The models have been extensively used by Ukraine in the war as an improvised cruise missile.
On February 28, 2023, photos and video footage of what appeared to be a fire at Yeisk airbase, located in the region of Krasnodar, appeared on Russian social media. According to local media, residents heard two loud explosions coming from the territory of the airport and captured footage of the blaze.
The mayor of Yeisk, Roman Bublik, issued a response via a post on his Telegram channel, calling the reports of a fire “a provocation” and stating that the explosions were a result of military exercises performed at the air base. Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that according to officials from the country’s emergency services, no reports of a fire on the base had been registered.
According to local Telegram news channels, at least one of the videos, which claims to show firefighting vehicles rushing to the air base, was filmed in its immediate vicinity.
AeroTime was unable to geolocate or confirm the authenticity of the images and the video footage.
Shoot-downs, airspace closures and scrambled fighter jets
At least one more Ukrainian drone was reported to have been shot down on the morning of February 28 above Surazhsky district in Russia’s Bryansk region, approximately 70-80 kilometers (40-50 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. According to the region’s governor Alexander Bogomaz, no damage was caused by the drone.
Later the same day, airspace was closed above Pulkovo Airport (LED) in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the closure was prompted by the appearance of an “unidentified object” over the airport. The airspace was closed between 10:15 and 13:20 local time (7:15-10:20 AM GMT), RIA Novosti added.
According to Russian Telegram channel Aviatorschina, which regularly posts insider stories from the Russian aviation industry, two fighter jets, a Sukhoi Su-35 and a MiG-31, were scrambled in response.
Later the same day, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the airspace closure was part of a planned training program, and that a test of cooperation between civilian aviation authorities and the military was performed.
Saint-Petersburg is located approximately 900 kilometers (560 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. If the object spotted was a Ukrainian drone, it marks the furthest-reaching attack attempt by Ukraine within Russian borders.
What is the extent of the attack?
Russian sources have confirmed at least 10 Ukrainian drones have entered Russian territory, with at least two additional attacks remaining unconfirmed.
Only one attack, performed on the Tuapse oil depot, can be considered successful, with the depot being struck by two drones. An attack on Yeisk air base – if confirmed – could indicate another successful hit.
Eight drones have been shot down or have fallen near their targets, Russian authorities have claimed.
However, it is impossible to discern whether this is the full extent of the attacks, or if other attacks remain unpublicized.
Ukrainian authorities have not commented on the attacks, nor have they admitted responsibility.