Did Ukrainian forces pull off a daring aerial strike deep in Russian territory, a strike that at least some analysts have compared to the United States’ Doolittle Raid in World War II?
Russian authorities say yes, reporting that a pre-dawn raid by two Ukrainian attack helicopters blew up a facility described as an oil depot approximately 20 miles inside Russia, creating a massive inferno that filled the skies of the local city with black smoke well into the next day.
While the blast occurred only slightly north of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, if true, this would be the first airstrike by Ukrainians on Russian soil.
But the Ukrainian military had a surprising reply to the Russian news: It wasn’t us.
Multiple videos began circulating on social media early Friday, April 1, seemingly showing two low-flying Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters firing rockets at a civilian oil storage facility in Belgorod at around 5 a.m. local time.
Although fake aerial combat footage has been rampant over the last month, at least three separate videos from different angles appear to have surfaced that chronicled the strike.
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Initially, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk would neither confirm nor deny that Ukraine was responsible for the attack, saying, “Ukraine is currently conducting a defensive operation against Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine, and this does not mean that Ukraine is responsible for every catastrophe on Russia’s territory.”
Ukrainian Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov later went on TV and denied that Ukraine had attacked the depot.
“For some reason they say that we did it, but according to our information this does not correspond to reality,” Danilov said.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said that the attack “cannot be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for continuing” the peace talks in Istanbul.
According to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, eight fuel reservoirs were set ablaze, but at least three have been extinguished. There are no reported casualties or injuries, and only two employees were on site at the time of the explosion.
Despite the fact that Belgorod is a major logistical hub for Russia in the war, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told the BBC, “The oil storage facility has nothing to do with the Russian armed forces.”