New satellite imagery shows several large deployments of ground forces and rotary-wing aircraft in southern Belarus, roughly 20 miles from the Ukrainian border and less than 100 miles from Kyiv, the capital of the besieged nation.
The images, shared Friday by Maxar Technologies, show nearly 150 ground attack and transport helicopters in total.
One large helicopter grouping was spotted near the Belarussian town of Chojniki and contains more than 90 helicopters parked on a road with the deployment extending for more than five miles, according to Maxar’s images.
“Northeast of the town, a large deployment of ground forces with several hundred vehicles is seen in convoy position in several fields,” Maxar senior director Stephen A. Wood said in an email accompanying the images.
Another group of more than 50 helicopters, alongside support troops and equipment, was spotted roughly 40 miles away at the V.D. Bokov airfield near Mazyr, Belarus, Wood added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is trending into its third night. His forces drew closer to Kyiv Friday morning, and intense gunfire broke out on a bridge across the Dneiper River dividing the eastern and western parts of the city.
Other prongs of the Russian offensive have been striking out against Ukraine’s far eastern Donbas region and from the Russian-held Crimean peninsula.
However, the Russian push on Kyiv has lost some of its momentum, according to the U.S. and U.K. governments, though the Kremlin has only used about a third of the combat power arrayed around Ukraine’s borders.
“Based on all the things that we’ve talked about, and what we’ve seen over the last 24 hours, we do assess that there is greater resistance by the Ukrainians than the Russians expected,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Friday morning, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I’m not able to quantify that resistance for you. I’m just telling you what we’re seeing.”
Britain’s defense ministry said Friday morning that the bulk of Russian forces advancing on Kyiv were still more than 30 miles from the city center, with sporadic clashes in the capital’s northern suburbs.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made several video statements since Thursday evening. In the latest, he said he was remaining in Kyiv and “defending our independence,” despite being a supposed mark for Russian forces.
“The enemy identified me as the number one target, and my family as the number two target,” Zelensky said in one video address. “They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”
Zelenskyy and his cabinet have urged the West to sanction the Russian economy more aggressively and to send more arms to Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry.
The senior U.S. defense official said Ukrainian air defenses have been degraded but are still operating.
The Ukrainian government reported roughly 140 deaths on their side, while claiming to have killed hundreds of Russian troops and destroying dozens of Russian aircraft and tanks.
The Kremlin has not disclosed casualty figures, and it has not yet been possible to verify the tolls on either side.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents.
Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer