A lone soldier stands at his machine gun, silhouetted against the stars at the helm of a small ship that seems to hurtle relentlessly over the waves.
Seconds later, we see images of a Ukrainian flag attached to the walls of a single-story wooden building. Working by torchlight, a group of breathless men whisper instructions before posing for a brief souvenir photograph.
The 45-second film was filmed before dawn on August 24, Ukraine’s independence day, and released to the media by the country’s Ministry of Defense.
In a statement, they said it showed their soldiers setting foot in occupied Crimea for the first time in almost a decade, following its annexation by Russia in 2014.
“Our state flag has flown again in Ukrainian Crimea,” the ministry said after a “special operation” in which troops “engaged in combat,” destroying valuable military equipment and killing several enemy personnel.
“Our state flag flew again in Ukrainian Crimea,” the ministry said after a “special operation”
Six weeks later, the remarkable story behind this intriguing propaganda film can finally be told.
It was one of the most daring commando raids in modern history, using ten jet skis to transport 20 Ukrainian frogmen on a 265-mile round trip across a treacherous, storm-battered stretch. of the Black Sea.
Some aspects of the caper recall the glory days of the SAS, whose operations behind enemy lines in the Second World War inspired the BBC’s recent hit Rogue Heroes. Some parts also resemble the plot of a Bond film. In fact, Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball was inspired by the exploits of Royal Navy diver Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb.
The August mission appears to have been coordinated by a battalion commander named only Borghese, who recounted how his men attacked before dawn, camping on a beach somewhere near the village of Olenivka, on the western edge of Crimea, shortly before 5 in the morning.
Moving silently, they then advanced inland toward a Russian base as five Ukrainian support ships sped up the northern side of the peninsula, firing machine guns and rockets at enemy positions in an effort to create a distraction.
Their original plan had been to place explosives around the facility, an electronic warfare station containing radar equipment and other vital equipment, before detonating them once they had safely departed.
But about 200 meters from the target, one of the Ukrainian team members was spotted, forcing them to engage in a chaotic firefight in which they had to deploy anti-tank weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
“We had to capture the control center, plant explosives and blow it up, but since there was a battle we couldn’t approach it quietly,” Borghese told the Times newspaper, adding that therefore “they decided to just destroy the control center.” at a distance with anti-tank weapons, damage the antennas and withdraw.’
During the initial battle, which lasted about 30 minutes, the group managed to cause significant damage to the main building and three military vehicles.
Ukraine said the operation had managed to destroy valuable military equipment and kill several Russian personnel.
During the combat, which lasted about 30 minutes, the group managed to cause significant damage to the main building and three military vehicles.
The unit landed on a beach near the town of Olenivka, on the western edge of Crimea, shortly before 5 a.m.
At that moment, the leader of the group, named Levan, gave the order to retreat. Ten minutes later, they were able to meet on the beach and get on their jet skis. It is unclear whether the footage of the Ukrainian flag raising was taken seconds before they left or before the mission, before their cover was blown.
Either way, getting the 20 men home safely was easier said than done. After all, they were now being attacked by the combined might of the Russian navy and air force.
Initially, the enemy sent four high-speed Raptor patrol boats to pursue the jet skis. However, they quickly encountered a Ukrainian warship that was supposed to be assisting with the evacuation. She turned around and sped back to the mainland, with the four Raptors in pursuit.
That left the jet skis alone. But there was a second problem: not only did each machine need to be refueled twice during the mission (since they have a limited range), but they were also very vulnerable to air strikes.
Fortunately for Levan’s team, the five Ukrainian support ships that had created an initial distraction returned to the fray and began firing Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, repeatedly forcing the enemy to retreat.
“The Russian planes were over us for four hours, maybe longer because they were turning,” Levan told the Times. ‘There were a number of enemy aircraft that would enter the area, circle around, hit different points and then turn around. It was like that for four or five hours straight.’
Luck continued for the Ukrainians until dawn, at which point the weather helped them. “Our guys are very loyal and the whole operation was like a miracle,” Borghese said. «At dawn there were clouds, so the enemy aircraft and their drones could not function well. When we were halfway home, the sun came out and the weather was fine.’
Therefore, the 20 men were able to escape unharmed. If the mission had taken place much earlier or later, they might have been less fortunate, he added. “An hour after the boys set foot on land, a hurricane began that confirms, as always, that God is with us.”
Among those said to have been surprised by the success of the daring raid are British SAS troops and intelligence officers believed to be operating on the ground in Ukraine, helping to train the country’s forces and assisting with planning. and strategy.
Crimea’s fate increasingly seen as strategically crucial
Ukraine’s allies are said to have initially advised against the jet ski attack, believing the machines would likely have problems with the distance they would have to travel.
The fact that the Western allies were proven wrong was not only a major public relations coup for Ukraine, but also helped open a new and potentially crucial front in the war.
According to Levan, the Allies initially advised against attacking with jet skis, believing that the machines would likely have problems with the distance they would have to travel. During a month of training, they were only able to test the ship on trips of up to 87 miles, weighing every gram of equipment to increase its fuel economy.
“At sea they know and understand a lot, but even for our British partners this seemed like an almost impossible task,” Levan said. “Neither the Americans nor the British gave us much chance of success.”
The fact that the Western allies were proven wrong was not only a major public relations coup for Ukraine, but also helped open a new and potentially crucial front in the war. Fifteen days later, in subsequent attacks on the Crimean port of Sevastopol, British-made Storm Shadow missiles hit dry docks that Russia uses to maintain its Black Sea fleet, forcing the facility out of service for months. and destroyed the Russian submarine Rostov-on. -Don and the landing ship Minsk.
The next day, in Yevpatoria, west of the peninsula, missiles hit an air defense facility and images of the resulting fireball circulated on social media.
And just over a week ago, the command headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was attacked, with Ukraine claiming to have killed dozens of high-ranking officers.
These developments are important because the fate of Crimea is increasingly seen as strategically crucial in determining the long-term outcome of the war.
Currently, the peninsula provides a base from which Russia can launch persistent airstrikes against Ukrainian positions on the continent. Stopping those attacks would make it much more difficult for occupying troops to defend their front lines.
Importantly, Ukraine last week unveiled a 20-foot-long underwater kamikaze drone called Marichka. The newly designed torpedo, carrying 450kg of explosives, will be used to attack the £3bn Kerch Bridge, which Vladimir Putin had built following annexation to allow the flow of goods and military equipment between Russia and Crimea.
Its existence has allowed the Russians to spend years turning the region into a fortress, protected by six air bases as well as a fleet of patrol boats, in addition to an extensive network of mines and underwater networks.
But as we now know, that’s not enough to stop a group of Ukrainian commandos in possession of very fast jet skis and a host of feats.