Ukraine claims to have captured elite Russian sniper Irina Starikova

Before the February 24 invasion, war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine was characterised by sniper operations and static front lines

Snipers take part in military exercises at a firing ground in the Donetsk region, Ukraine. Reuters
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Ukrainian forces claim to have captured an elite sniper serving with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Irina Starikova had been abandoned by Russian allies after being wounded and had been given medical treatment, according to Ukrainian claims.

Her captors said she had killed “40 Ukrainians including civilians”, fighting in Donbas since 2014.

Ukrainian forces battling separatists have been plagued by snipers since the crisis escalated after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military intervention in Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region, a part of eastern Ukraine named after the Donets river basin.

An unclassified US military report on the situation in 2016 said "Russia has proven the ability to fix Ukrainian tactical formations by employing sniper teams en masse", slowing and even halting the movement of military units.

A report by the Jamestown Foundation think tank in 2020 said Russia had been supplying upgraded variants of Dragunov guns, Russia’s main infantry sniper rifle, as well as more traditional bolt action versions that are more powerful and have a longer range.

Russia had also been training snipers, the report said, noting that the Ukrainian military was in danger of being outmatched by Russian sniper operations.

In December, Ukraine said Russia had been infiltrating its own snipers into the region to bolster the separatists.

In March, US officials said they had been covertly training Ukrainian forces in sniper and counter-sniper operations, alongside publicly acknowledged military co-operation, since 2015.

Updated: March 30, 2022, 12:56 PM