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Ukrainian drones attack Alabuga SEZ in Tatarstan, targeting industrial facility for assembling Shahed UAVs deep inside Russia

Cover photo: The aftermath of a Ukrainian drone attack on the Alabuga SEZ in Tatarstan; Source: Ostorozhno, Novosti!

On the morning of April 2, Ukrainian drones struck multiple targets in Tatarstan — 1,300 kilometers (over 800 miles) from Ukraine. The attacks marked the deepest Ukrainian strikes within Russian territory since the beginning of the full-scale war in February 2022. The UAVs hit a major oil refinery and an industrial area where students are being used to assemble Russian Shahed-type kamikaze drones.

The press service of the “Alabuga” Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was the first to report the attack, saying that a college dormitory had been impacted by the strike. Soon after, the head of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, clarified that the drones attacked targets in two locations — Yelabuga and Nizhnekamsk.

Nizhnekamsk

In Nizhnekamsk, the drone struck Russia’s third-largest oil refinery, hitting a unit that processes close to 155,000 barrels of crude per day — though an anonymous industry source told Reuters that it caused “no critical damage.”

Russian officials said its electronic jamming devices locked onto a Ukrainian drone near the Tatneft-owned Taneco oil refinery, which processes over 17 million tons of oil annually (about 340,000 barrels each day). The affected part of the refinery is responsible for close to half of its total yearly output. Taneco contributes to 6.2% of Russia's total oil refining capacity.

Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, HUR, confirmed that it was behind the attack, according to a report by RBC-Ukraine citing a source in intelligence circles. Ukrainska Pravda's sources in the Ukrainian security services said that HUR was behind the attack in Yelabuga, while the attack on the oil refinery in Nizhnekamsk was a joint operation between HUR and the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine). The Ukrainian authorities have not released official commentary on the drone strike in Tatarstan.

Yelabuga

Local authorities reported that the drone strike on Alabuga SEZ injured 13 Alabuga Polytechnic College students — including two 17-year-olds. Both were in the dormitory at the time of the attack. Eight injured students were taken to hospitals, according to a report by Tatarstan’s Ministry of Health.

Images and video footage from the scene of the incident reveal significant damage to the “Heron” complex — a series of eight dormitories designated for students of the Alabuga Polytechnic College. The facility is structured to accommodate students in four-person apartments.

The damaged dorm is located 300-400 meters away from an assembly site for Iranian Shahed-type kamikaze drones, which Russia uses to attack Ukraine, according to a report by the independent investigative outlet Agentstvo (lit. “The Agency”). Radio Liberty, which geolocated the site of the Ukrainian drone strike, reported that the workshop is located across the street from the damaged hostel. RBC-Ukraine’s source in the Ukraine’s security services claimed that the attack inflicted significant damage to the drone production facilities.

The Telegram channel Baza published two videos of a Ukrainian drone impacting the Alabuga Polytechnic hostel building.

Last year, the Protokol media outlet and the RZVRT YouTube channel released a two-part investigation revealing the mass assembly of Shahed-type combat drones from Iranian components for the Russian army at the Alabuga SEZ.

In the second part of the investigation, the journalists reported that students of the Alabuga Polytechnic College — including minors — were involved in the assembly of the drones under a so-called “dual program” in which they could combine working and studying, potentially earning up to up to 70,000 roubles ($750) per month from the first year of enrollment.

As per the report, around one thousand students attend the educational institution, which can be entered after the ninth grade. Several hundred of them were involved in assembling Shahed-type drones, using components supplied from Iran. The students claimed they sometimes worked for days without sleep or adequate food, while the college administration reportedly intimidated and silenced them. The parents of the enrolled students also reportedly signed papers stating that dropouts had to pay hefty fines to the college.

According to the college students interviewed for the investigation, they work from early morning until late evening, leaving no time for rest or managing their daily lives. They can only go to the supermarket once a week.

As Alexander Savelyev, one of the authors of the investigation, noted in a conversation with The Insider, the Russian government and the Russian Ministry of Defense, which buys the drones, are the main beneficiaries of the manufacturing concern rganized at the college in Alabuga.

“They use the drones, [which are] assembled by students, to attack peaceful cities in Ukraine. The ones benefiting from this are the leadership of Tatarstan, particularly the head of the republic Rustam Minnikhanov and the management of the special economic zone, including top managers like general director Timur Shagivaleev and his deputy Sergey Alekseev.
Initially, Alabuga sought a small defense order to avoid mobilizing its employees. However, it escalated into a full-scale production of Iranian kamikaze drones, and now they seem unable to halt the operation.”

According to a report by The Washington Post, Russia planned to build 6,000 Shahed drones at the Alabuga facility by the summer of 2025.

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