Ukrainian forces capture Russian pilot reportedly linked to Syria air raids
The pilot, Major Krasnoyartsev, was captured alive by local forces attending the scene near Kyiv, having sustained serious but non life-threatening injuries. His co-pilot was killed instantly by the strike.
Krasnoyartsev was asked by the Ukrainian officers "Did you know that you were bombing a peaceful city, right?", in videos taken by his captors.
Major Krasnoyartsev answered that they "were not informed" about the purpose of the attack, and claimed that it was his first foray into Ukrainian airspace. The Ukrainian soldier interrogating him asked the major if he was "blind".
In other videos circulating on social media, Ukrainian forces also used Krasnoyartsev’s phone to call his wife and friends in Russia, mocking him and informing them of his capture.
The pilot received immediate medical care and remains in Ukrainian custody.
From Syria to Ukraine
Krasnoyartsev is believed to have been particularly active in Russia’s aerial campaigns alongside the Syrian regime, having been allegedly pictured next to President Bashar al-Assad in a photograph with Vladimir Putin.
The pilot’s identity, and involvement in the Syrian conflict, was quickly the subject of open source investigations, as OSINT specialists Bellingcat doubted the veracity of the link.
This claim has been widely cited, so we've run the images of the captured Russian pilot through Microsoft Azure facial recognition, which gave a low match likelihood. https://t.co/aETGO2acxY pic.twitter.com/IloHtQUr4Z— Bellingcat (@bellingcat) March 5, 2022
"The pace of open information flow is amazing. Russian aircraft shot down, multiple smart phone videos of parachutes, Ukrainians pick up one of the crew, and here he is in Syria next to Putin and Assad a few years ago?" tweeted tech investigator Benedict Evans.
Nevertheless, Syrians on social media were quick to thank Ukrainian forces for apprehending an individual believed responsible for air attacks on civilian areas in Syria over the last six years.
"After serving in Syria and killing, destroying and bombing many places under the auspices of the criminal Bashar al-Assad, this Russian pilot was captured by the Ukrainian forces after his plane was shot down in Ukraine," tweeted activist Fareed al-Hor.
Russian air force struggling for ascendency
Ukrainian ground defences were able to bring Krasnoyartev’s Su-34 fighter plane down before it could deploy any munitions, in a conflict which is proving particularly costly for the Russian air forces.
According to Ukrainian military statistics released on Friday, Russia has lost at least 33 aircraft and 37 helicopters through unexpectedly robust ground defence from the Ukrainian military.
In figures released on Sunday, Ukrainian general staff have claimed that Russian military losses in the first 11 days of conflict have amounted to 11,000 lives.