Under Cover of the Night

Ukrainian Special Forces operating behind enemy lines have been smashing supply columns and hobbling the Russian offensive for two months now. Additionally, conventional Ukrainian troops’ ability to launch rapid counterattacks after Russians take offensive actions proves effective in buying time for the country to strengthen its forces and retake lost ground.

Ukrainian SF soldiers, under cover of darkness, patrol the streets of Kharkiv. Image Credit: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

By contrast, significant casualties have depleted Russia’s Spetsnaz Special Forces, whose expertise would take considerable time to replace and rebuild. In the early day of the war, President Putin sent hundreds of helicopter-borne Spetsnaz troops to try to assault and seize a lightly defended airfield outside of Kyiv.

What they did not do apparently was a last-minute recon of the target just before the raid.  Had they done so, they would have seen that Ukraine had obstructed the runway to prevent large fixed-wing aircraft from landing and that a sizeable Ukrainian force including armored vehicles was positioned just outside the airport waiting for them.

The result was a debacle for Russian Special Operations.  Their Mi-8 assault helicopters were on the way to attack Hostomel airfield when several were knocked out of the sky. Once the Russians made it to the ground, they took heavy losses through effective artillery fire and with the blocked runway were unable to bring in supplies and reinforcements. When the Ukrainians counterattacked, the Spetnaz troops were forced to flee into the woods surrounding the airport to survive.

Russia was stunned and took their first black eye of the war. It set the stage for things to come.

Ukrainian Special Forces and a US Air Force JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) communicate to a helicopter for exfiltration during a raid at Exercise Combined Resolve 14 at Hohenfels, Germany, September 24, 2020. Photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt

Trained by the Best of the Best

It’s no secret that Ukraine’s specialist troops have been extensively trained over the years by British and US Special Forces. Since the Russian invasion, they have extensively honed their skills and have created havoc on the battlefield, especially when it comes to taking out large columns of vulnerable Russian vehicles.

One of many kilometers long Russian convoys in the early days of the war going nowhere fast. Image credit: en.as.com

Combined Arms Operation

Lt Col Yaroslav Honchar is a Ukrainian ex-soldier turned IT marketing consultant turned current soldier. He returned to uniform in 2014 after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.  The unit he commands, Aerorozvidka, specializes in aerial surveillance, drone warfare, and cybersecurity. They have been involved in numerous successful nighttime raids during the current conflict with Russia. Their motto should be “Death in the Dark.” Feel free to use that, Colonel Honchar.

It was Honchar’s troops partnering with 30 Ukrainian Special Forces operators that took out the infamous 40km long column of Russian trucks that was making its way slowly to the capital city of Kyiv in late February. The showdown was classic Davis vs. Goliath.

Under cover of darkness, the operators on their quads were able to approach the convoy from the front and behind the tree line on either side of the road. They were well equipped with night vision goggles, sniper rifles, and remotely detonated mines such as the Claymore. Real-time aerial reconnaissance data was fed to them by the Aerorozvidka drone operators. The drones were equipped with thermal imaging cameras and were also able to drop small 1.5kg bombs on target precisely.

The combined efforts of this small and nimble force stopped hundreds of Russian vehicles dead in their tracks. Here is what Colonel Honchar had to say about the operation:

“This one little unit in the night destroyed two or three vehicles at the head of this convoy, and after that it was stuck. They stayed there two more nights, and [destroyed] many vehicles.”

It was a brilliant plan; the convoy was quickly crippled.

Colonel Honchar is quite proud of their accomplishment. “The first echelon of the Russian force was stuck without heat, without oil, without bombs, and without gas. And it all happened because of the work of 30 people,” he said.

The Ukrainian Special Forces are indeed quiet professionals and are among the finest of the unsung heroes of this war.