An estimated nine or more Russian warplanes appear to have been damaged or destroyed in the recent attack on Saky airbase in Crimea, according to newly released satellite images, in contrast to Russian claims that none were damaged.
The vivid aerial photographs show charred remains of combat aircraft amid large areas of scorched earth, as evidence of the attack that took place on Tuesday afternoon more than 110 miles from the frontline.
Ukraine’s air force said at least nine Russian aircraft were destroyed on the ground at the airbase. Russia has said the attack killed one person, wounded 14 and damaged dozens of nearby houses.
Independent analysts at Oryx Research said at least 11 Russian jets – four Su-30SMs and seven Su-24s – were destroyed, based on analysis of the imagery released by satellite companies and Ukraine’s air force.
Kyiv has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack – although it is doing so in private – while an adviser to the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, suggested partisans operating behind Russian lines might have been involved.
But the country’s defence ministry tweeted out a video revelling in the attack and telling Russian tourists it was not safe to holiday in Crimea.
“No amount of sunscreen will protect them from the hazardous effects of smoking in unauthorised areas,” the ministry said, a standard phrase when referring to attacks for which Ukraine does not want to formally take responsibility.
Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst, said: “Official Kyiv has kept mum about it, but unofficially the military acknowledges that it was a Ukrainian strike.”
Zelenskiy referred to the attack in his Wednesday evening address. “In just one day, the occupiers lost 10 combat aircraft: nine in Crimea and one more in the direction of Zaporizhzhia,” he said. “The occupiers also suffer new losses of armoured vehicles, warehouses with ammunition, logistics routes.”
Russia has sought to downplay the attack, denying that any aircraft were damaged in the blasts and conceding only that “several aviation munitions detonated” in a storage area at the base, one of a number used to launch air and missile attacks against Ukraine and patrol the Black Sea.
Images taken by the private satellite operator Planet Labs at about 8am on 9 August – approximately four hours before the attack – and about 4.40pm on 10 August show aircraft parked outside were damaged or destroyed.
The before-and-after images are the first independent confirmation of damage to the base. But it remains unclear how the attack took place.
Eliot Higgins, the founder and director of the open-source investigative website Bellingcat, said in a series of tweets he “can’t think of a time Russia has lost this many air assets in one day in recent memory”.
Higgins said he could make out three craters at what appeared to be storage sites. “One way to interpret those craters is precise strikes from a long-range munition,” he said, adding that the craters appeared to measure “about 20-25m wide … which would mean a pretty big munition”.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, cryptically said the blasts were either caused by Ukrainian-made long-range weapons or the work of Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea.
Other analysts have said they cannot find any evidence for a missile strike in the videos of the incident, suggesting it was the work of special forces or guerrilla operators.
The scale of the damage is likely to mean Russian official estimates of the number of casualties are an underestimate. As well as the dead and wounded, officials said 62 housing blocks had been damaged.
In the last few days there have been a growing number of attacks and explosions at Russian bases behind enemy lines. Late on Wednesday a number of blasts were heard at an airstrip used by Russian forces in south-east Belarus. The Belarus state news agency said there were no casualties and “personnel took prompt extinguishing measures”.
However, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, hinted at responsibility. “The epidemic of technical accidents at military airfields of Crimea and Belarus should be considered by [Russian] military as a warning: forget about Ukraine, take off the uniform and leave.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, said Britain would send three more M270 rocket artillery systems to Ukraine, at an international weapons donor conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“President Putin will have gambled that come August, come a few months in, we will have all got bored of the conflict and the international community would have gone off in different directions. Well, today is proof of the opposite,” Wallace said.
Denmark said the 26 participating countries had agreed to send €1.5bn worth of weapons, and the host said it would donate $113m worth of kit to help Kyiv in the nearly six-month-old war with Russia.
The Ukrainian state energy company Energoatom said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was shelled five times by Russian forces on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored. But it said nobody was injured and the situation at the plant remained under control.
Earlier in the day, the Russian state-owned news agency Tass said Ukraine had shelled the plant for a second time on Thursday, citing the Russian-installed local administration. But the claim could not be verified.
The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, told the UN security council on Thursday that explosions at the Zaporizhzhia plant had cut some of the external electricity supply to the site, essential for the cooling systems in the reactor. One of the reactors had shut down as a result and emergency diesel generators had been turned on, he said.
Grossi said his agency assessed there was no immediate threat to nuclear safety but “this could change at any moment”. He appealed for a team of IAEA inspectors to be allowed access to the nuclear power plant to assess its safety.