Russia may be using more than three dozen air bases to launch strikes against Ukraine, including some located in Belarus and Crimea, an examination of satellite imagery shows.
Russia has largely dominated the skies since it launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, destroying Ukrainian civil and military infrastructure with missiles and bombs and dropping paratroopers to secure key territory.
Russia is believed to be flying as many as 200 sorties a day compared with just a handful for Ukraine. Missiles and bombs unleashed by warplanes are among the weapons that have devastated cities and killed hundreds, probably thousands, of civilians.
"Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on March 16, beseeching the United States for more help protecting the country from air attacks.
The United States has made clear it is not prepared to support a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it would "put NATO's forces in potential contact or conflict with Russia" and take the war "to a whole new level."
The Russian military jets and helicopters attacking Ukraine may be taking off from roughly 40 air bases, according to an analysis by Schemes (Skhemy), an investigative news project run by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in cooperation with UA: Pershy television. Schemes examined satellite images from the private, U.S.-based company Maxar Technologies.
Ukraine has said that Russian jets flying over the Black Sea have hit the Lviv region in the west. Russia is actively using airbases located on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea to bomb Ukraine, Oleksandr Musiyenko, head of the Center for Military Legal Studies in Kyiv, told Schemes.
He said Tupolev bombers armed with Kh-101 cruise missiles are believed to be based in Crimea. Russia has bombed the Lviv, Vinnytsya, and Ivano-Frankivsk regions with Kh-101 cruise missiles.
Russia may also be using as many as nine air bases in Belarus, Russia’s closest military ally, the satellite images indicated. They show an increase in the number of military helicopters and jets located at air bases in Ukraine’s northern neighbor after the invasion.
Ukraine's military said it has observed bombing raids made by Sukhoi fighter jets taking off from Belarus.
Belarusians are also posting information about military activity, including jet movements, on Telegram, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia has lost dozens of planes since it launched its invasion and may be running low on highly experienced pilots, Ukrainian officials said. Ukraine says it has captured at least two Russian pilots.
Kyiv is seeking more anti-aircraft weapons from the West to deter Russian air operations.
The United States has supplied shoulder-launched missiles to take down jets and helicopters while Poland and Slovakia are considering sending MiG-29 fighters.