Kyiv-Hostomel Airport on 24FEB22: In the airport hangar, pending an engine swap, stood the world's largest cargo aircraft: the AN-225. Today, only the remains of the iconic aircraft, torn apart by explosive charges, are scattered across the floor. The debris documents the sad end of an incomparable chapter in aviation and air cargo history. We recap here, out of respect for Antonov and its unique product, the bitter end of the AN-225.
Why did Antonov fail to fly the Mriya out of Kyiv in time? This question has been asked repeatedly by members of the international aviation community. The answer is quite simple: because a year ago, neither the Ukrainian government nor aircraft manufacturer Antonov assumed that Russian troops were about to attack the country.
Bona fide politicians
Similarly, Washington, Berlin, London, and Paris; their governments considered an assault on the eastern European country as rather unlikely. Seen from today’s perspective, it seems that Putin had quite successfully lulled most politicians with his assurance that the concentration of troops along the Ukrainian border was part of a large-scale maneuver. Evidently, politicians tended to believe his words, probably also to reassure themselves. Nor was Antonov Airlines, based at Hostomel Airport, on alert. “If we had been warned, we would have had the Mriya flown out of Ukraine immediately,” Volodymyr Smus recalls in a brilliant report by colleague, Florian Hassel of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, about the first days of the war. On 24FEB22, Smus, who headed the Hostomel control center, was on duty. Not only he, but all staff and defenders were surprised when the first Russian soldiers rushed in, attempting to take over control of the airport.
Shelling its own airport
Simultaneously, Russian military helicopters circled over Hostomel, released skydivers, and fired on the 120 or so Ukrainian National Guards stationed there. When news reached the Kyiv government that eighteen IL76 military aircraft had taken off in Russia, heading towards Hostomel, it decided to bomb the airport and destroy the runway, hindering the aircraft loaded with troops, tanks, and grenade launchers, from landing there. A last-minute rescue of the city.
It took the Ukrainians weeks to clear the airport, or what was left of it. On 31MAR22, the last Russian soldiers withdrew from Hostomel - on Putin's orders. This was preceded by fierce defeats of the occupiers in the northern outskirts of Kyiv, which today resemble a landscape of ruins. Not to mention the thousands of casualties on both sides this senseless war has cost so far.
Diplomatic slap in the face
On the occasion of the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, last Friday (24FEB23), the UN overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russia to unconditionally withdraw its troops from the neighboring country. Besides Russia itself, only Belarus, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea, and Syria voted against the bill. All these seven countries are ruled by the military or autocrats.
Currently, Antonov Airlines still operates five AN-124 freighters, based at Leipzig Airport. They are part of the Strategic Airlift International Solutions (Salis contract) alliance, and fly outsized and heavy cargo on behalf of the European Union and NATO countries. Although built in Ukraine and registered there, they are no longer allowed to fly into the country. This is because Ukraine’s skies are closed for all carriers until further notice.
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