Russian soldiers were unable to launch drones into the Ukrainian counteroffensive due to software installation

The Ukrainian army liberated the town of Balakliya in southeastern Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on September 11, 2022. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

  • A new Reuters investigation sheds light on the dysfunctionality of Russia’s military occupation of Kharkiv.
  • Notes from soldiers to their superiors show them begging for non-military grade drones.
  • Once received, the drones were not ready to use as they needed the correct software first.
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A Russian battalion in Balakliia, Kharkiv sent out calls for more drones in late July as Ukraine stepped up its eastern counteroffensive backed by US weapons, and some troops were eventually held back by a software installation, according to a new Reuters investigation.

A trove of thousands of military documents left behind by defeated Russian forces in Kharkiv, which withdrew in mid-September, and obtained by Reuters shed light on their brief regime of torture and later failing air capabilities.

Troops asked their superiors in Russia for more drones as Ukrainian forces relied increasingly and effectively on US HIMARS missile launchers in the summer before their counteroffensive in the north, according to Reuters.

“Quadcopters!!! Urgent!” a soldier wrote to his superior on July 19, according to Reuters. The quadcopter drones are not military grade, which gave a sign of the desperation of the troops before the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Drones are frequently used by Russia as they are low-cost, short-range rechargeable drones intended to launch small weapons. They are also used in part to offset the high costs of high-tech, explosive surveillance drones like Iran’s suicide bomber drones, according to The New York Times.

According to Reuters, the next day the forces received four Mavic-3 quadcopter drones, but they could not be used immediately when needed. The soldiers, under missile fire, had to install new software for the drones, then train 15 soldiers in their use.

Other notes from Reuters showed the soldiers begging for ammunition, with one soldier complaining that “the machine gun still won’t work if it doesn’t have bullets inside”.

The successful Ukrainian counter-offensive in northeast Kharkiv began in late summer and intensified in early September. By mid-September, towns like Balakliia and Izium had been liberated, and Russian leaders announced they were withdrawing from almost the entire Kharkiv region and transferring troops.

Russia had captured areas in the Kharkiv region from the early days of the war in late February, through the spring until Ukraine began pushing back. According to the Associated Press, at least 257 men, 225 women and 19 children have been killed by Russia during its occupation of the region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said within days of the September counteroffensive, Ukraine had reclaimed more than 1,158 square miles of territory from Russian forces. Along with a solid military strategy and a steady flow of weapons, Ukraine said it had stepped up an offensive in the south as a disinformation tactic to surprise Russian troops in the northeast.

“[It] was a big disinformation special operation,” Taras Berezovets, Ukrainian special forces press officer told The Guardian. [our] the guys from Kharkiv received the best of Western, mainly American, weapons.

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