'Chance for life': Ukraine's battle for the skies as pilots fly low and fast to stay alive

President Zelenskyy spoke to ITV News and repeated his plea for the west to provide Ukraine with fighter jets to help carry on the fightback against Vladimir Putin’s invading forces.

As Correspondent Emma Murphy discovered, Ukraine’s own aerial assets on the frontline rely heavily on older weapons like its Soviet-era battle helicopters.

To hold the ground, Ukrainian pilots understand they need to hold the skies.

Armed with antiquated transport helicopters that have outfitted with assault weapons, chopper crews have been relentlessly attacking Russian positions in Eastern Ukraine.

ITV News was granted access to one of the teams whose shoulders the air war rests upon.

Survival for the team means fighting as close to the ground as possible, while keeping as far away from the sky as possible.

Flying low and fast, the pilots are barely higher than the trees in an attempt to avoid exposure to Russian attack.

'I have lost many friends, some of my best friends'

One of the helicopter crew members said: "We have a very hard job, especially for us now it is very dangerous in the east part of our country.

"If we have a long-distance from the enemy, we have a chance for life. I have lost many friends, some of my best friends."

The intensity of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine has forced the pilots to adapt their tactics.

Most of the men in the helicopters have done more flying in the past two weeks than in their entire six years of training.

Battle and losses have honed their fighting style, and while no official figures have been released, it is clear that many crafts and people have been lost.

One of the transport helicopters that the Ukrainian air force have outfitted with weapons. Credit: ITV News

Despite the challenges they face, the Ukrainian Air Force is determined to modernise its fighting force.

With much of its equipment dating back to Soviet times, Ukraine has been pleading with it's Western allies for jets and helicopters to bolster their war efforts.

As President Zelenskyy told us: "We need artillery - that's number one. We need the artillery systems, we need the ammunition - a lot of ammunition in order to stop Russia - we need aircrafts.

"It's not about discussions or promises. It's about training of our pilots and providing us with aircrafts."

For the Ukrainian military, losing the battle in the air would mean losing the battle on the ground.

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