A Russian rocket attack killed at least 23 people, including two 10-year-olds, and injured dozens more civilians in the central Ukrainian city of Uman on Friday morning. This is Russia’s first attack on civilians in over a month and one of the Kremlin’s deadliest single strikes on civilians this year. The missile struck an apartment complex nearly 200 miles north of the front line, raising concerns among Ukrainians about Moscow’s extensive reach.
Also, a Russian missile struck Kyiv on Friday, injuring a minor. It was the first strike in the capital in over 50 days. Ukrainian air defenses successfully shot down 21 out of 23 missiles fired on Friday. “The way to peace is to kick Russia out of Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted in response to the attacks. “The way to peace is to arm Ukraine with F-16s and protect children from Russian terror.”
However, Western governments, including U.S. officials, continue to rebuff Ukraine’s pleas for F-16s and long-range rocket artillery that can reach Russian lines, FP’s Jack Detsch reported. Instead, U.S. and European leaders have hinted that F-16s would be of better use to Ukraine in a postwar scenario as a future long-term deterrent. Top Ukrainian commanders have criticized these claims, saying F-16s are vital for Ukraine’s military success, being “four or five times” more effective than the Soviet-era planes they currently use.
Military analysts predict Ukraine will launch a spring counteroffensive in the coming weeks, one only the Ukrainian high command knows the details of. According to strategic studies expert Franz-Stefan Gady, the first 24 hours of the offensive will be Ukraine’s longest—and most important—day. “There is perhaps only one way for Ukraine to escape the scourge of attrition in the opening hours of the upcoming offensive: set off paralysis in the Russian military leadership and panic across the Russian rank and file,” Gady wrote. Until then, Russia and Ukraine hope that wearing the other down will be enough to give them a decisive advantage.
In the meantime, reconstruction efforts are at the forefront of many Ukrainians’ minds—including many of the people impacted by Friday’s missile strike in Uman. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, around 1,900 Ukrainian cities need reconstruction, adding that it’s the “largest economic project in Europe in several generations.” Total rebuilding costs are estimated to be around $400 billion, according to the World Bank, United Nations, and European Union—roughly double Ukraine’s annual GDP.
The attacks on Friday were the deadliest since the winter. In January, Russia killed at least 25 people when it struck Dnipro. In December, at least three died after the Kremlin launched missiles across Ukraine.
Experts say that donated MiG jets will not give Ukraine air superiority against Russia: The Ukrainians who have flown the MiG-29 describe the aircraft as an “old friend.” The jets don’t have the flashiness of newer fighters, but they play a critical role in Ukraine’s underdog air force. The MiG-29s may not be enough for Ukraine’s coming spring offensive. They are outmatched by Russian warplanes, equipped with newer radar and missile systems.
Two MiG-29 fighter jets take part in a NATO exercise near an air base in Lask, Poland, in October. Poland recently announced plans to send MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.
The MiG radar doesn’t work far; their missiles don’t fire far,” said Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force. “We need new, modern generations of aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has announced that the United States is training Ukrainian forces in Germany on weapons recently delivered as part of Washington’s ongoing military assistance to Kyiv.
A senior United States defense official said a few Ukrainian forces had begun US training on howitzer artillery systems as Ukraine continues to call for more weapons to respond to a Russian offensive in the east of the country.
Speaking on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, the US official said the howitzer training was taking place outside Ukraine and would take about one week.
But when Poland and Slovakia announced their plans to donate up to 30 MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, it was hailed as a breakthrough in getting Kyiv ever more sophisticated weaponry and as a sign that Eastern European nations were prepared to be bolder than the United States or NATO allies in Western Europe.
For the Ukrainian pilots who fly it, the Soviet-designed MiG-29 is an “old friend” — a fighter that lacks the flash and capabilities of newer jets but has played a critical role. “It’s swift,” said Moonfish, a Ukrainian pilot who has flown close to 60 sorties, all in the MiG-29, and spoke on the condition that only his call sign be used for security reasons. One time, Moonfish said, he needed to “escape from Russian missiles.” “The MiG,” he said, “carried by a– out of danger.”
But as Ukrainian forces prepare to launch a new offensive to oust Russian forces from occupied territory in the east and south, the old friend may not be enough.
Ukrainian soldiers and military experts say the donated planes will not be a game changer. The MiG-29 — first put into use in the early 1980s and later upgraded to contemporary battlefield requirements — is outmatched by Russia’s aircraft, which are equipped with newer radar and missile systems, Ukrainian officials and experts say.
These shortcomings point to overall limitations in Kyiv’s battle plans and complicate its ability to mount its long-awaited offensive, which Ukrainian officials hope will turn the tide in the conflict.
Since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Ukrainian pilots and antiaircraft forces have waged a David-and-Goliath battle against Russia’s larger and more advanced air assault, resulting in a deadlock in Ukrainian airspace. That deadlock seems likely to continue, even as more MiGs arrive in Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Germany permitted Poland to send to Ukraine five MiG-29s, which had been part of the air force of East Germany during the Cold War. German law requires that Berlin approve any re-export of weapons it once owned.
“The Ukrainians have already shown in Kharkiv and Kherson, and previously the battle of Kyiv, you can win battles and indeed wars without air superiority,” said Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow and military aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
For Ukrainian forces to prevail, Bronk said they must maintain this standoff. “Russia has a lot of firepowers that it could employ from the air if it is essentially given the window to do so,” he said.
Leaked U.S. intelligence documents indicate that maintaining the standoff will not be easy for Ukraine. According to the intelligence, part of a trove of classified information leaked on the Discord social platform, ammunition supplies for Ukraine’s central air defense systems are running alarmingly low.
A Russian missile barrage on Friday, killing at least 22 people, demonstrated the critical need for air defenses.
Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry said that one missile struck an apartment building in the central city of Uman, where at least 20 people died. And in the city of Dnipro, a young woman and a child were killed, the regional governor said. Ukraine’s armed forces said they thwarted 21 Russian cruise missiles.
“The key thing will continue to be whether Ukraine can deny Russia air superiority over the battlefield,” Bronk said. “Things will likely get tough for Ukraine if it can’t.”
In that context, Ukrainian officials say that more MiGs are not the solution to Ukraine’s front-line problems.
“The MiG radar doesn’t work far; their missiles don’t fire far,” said Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force. “We need new, modern generations of aircraft.”
Ukrainian officials have pinned their hopes on Western officials’ relenting and agreeing to provide the country with U.S.-built F-16s. But that still seems to be a long shot.
In an interview with ABC News at the end of February, President Biden said that Ukraine “doesn’t need F-16s now.”
Ukrainian officials disagree. The F-16s are needed as soon as possible, they said.
“F-16s are the universal platform, and they can carry kind of a full spectrum of weapons which are required to have, if not have superiority in the air, at least to even it out with the Russians,” said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.
Nevertheless, the donated MiGs are appreciated, Ukrainian officials said. Ukraine’s air force has lost at least 17 MiG-29s since the beginning of the war, according to the Oryx Blog, a military analysis site.
“In a conventional war, more is more,” said Michael Kofman, a military analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “Wars often come down to attrition, so one of your persistent challenges is the replacement of materiel.”