Petro Zadorozhny Getty Images

On the snow-covered streets of the northern Ukrainian city of Trostyanets, the Russian missile system launches missiles every second. Tanks and military vehicles are parked on both sides of the explosive artillery system, located among houses and close to the city’s railway system. However, the weapon does not work alone. Hanging tens of meters above him and recording the attack is a Ukrainian drone. The drone is not a complex military system, but a small commercial machine that anyone can buy.

Since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in late February, drones of all shapes and sizes have been used by both sides in the conflict. At one end of the cliff are large military drones that can be used for aerial surveillance and to attack targets on the ground. In contrast, small commercial drones can be operated by untrained people and carried in a suitcase-sized box. While both types of drones have been used in previous conflicts, the current scale of use of small, commercial drones in Ukraine is unprecedented.

Drone videos shared and posted on social media depict the brutality of the war and reveal what happened during the fighting. The drones filmed battles in destroyed Ukrainian city of Bucha, with lines of tanks moving through the streets and troops moving along them. Commercial drones helped journalists document huge scale of destruction in Kyiv and Mariupolflying over burnt buildings that have been turned into ruins.

It is alleged that the Russian troops were filmed by a camera shooting at citizens holding hands in the air. The videos with the drone show Ukrainian troops shelling Russian positions, tracking their movements real time and ambush of Russian troops. In one video, a drone spotted Russian military vehicles leaving troops behind run after the transport and fall into the snow. In another, the drone hovers in the air and records a helicopter creature taken down while flying.

“The drones changed the way the war was supposed to be,” said Valery Yakovenko, founder of the Ukrainian drone company DroneUA. “It’s all about reconnaissance, collecting and transferring data on the movements or positioning of enemy troops, adjusting artillery fire. These are counter-sabotage operations and, of course, search and rescue operations. Yakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces use more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says they can connect to Elon Musk Starlink satellite systems for uploading footage. “In 2014, drones became the focus of intelligence, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today,” he said. (Russia first began its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.)

And Ukraine and Russia have used military drones during the war– and Ukraine received donation of drones from the United States. These military drones can often fly high altitudes for long periods of time and fire at targets, including ships. However, the use of smaller commercial drones in such large numbers stands out, researchers say. These drones, which can sometimes be fragile and unable to fly far from their operators or stay in the air for long periods, in some cases provide tactical advantages. (Commercial drones have been used in previous conflicts, for example in Syriabut not as widely as in Ukraine.)

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