Monday, February 27, 2023. Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine lasted 367 days, 365 days more than Vladimir Putin had hoped by sending his forces in large numbers to his neighbor.
The head of the Kremlin expected that Kiev would fall quickly and without much difficulty, a cruel blitzkrieg of his infallible army. He was plunged into a long conflict, the outcome of which no one knows, and which cost his army more than 200,000 men, thousands of armored vehicles and dozens of aircraft.
This unusual Ukrainian resistance, which the Russians clearly did not see coming, became evident very early in the conflict. Other feats of glory kept the country from sinking, but much of Russia’s initial fiasco was played out at Hostomel Airport.
The quick capture of the intact runways of this airfield where in particular the legendary An-225 “Mriya” aircraft, the world’s largest cargo plane and Ukrainian national pride, was stationed, was essential to Russian plans, Stefan Udran explains in a thread on Twitter.
Just a year ago, Ukraine announced that it had captured Hostomel Airport after an epic battle. And the case determined the fate of the “western” axis of Russian advance from Belarus. It also showed Russia’s inability to adapt to the 1/ 👇 https://t.co/OSxvWXH9xp
– Stéphane Audrand (@AudrandS) February 25, 2023
From the east, south, or Belarus, three main axes of the initial Russian offensive, it was a long way to Kiev. Long, served by few roads, muddy due to the onset of thaw and the Rasputitsa phenomenon.
So the creation of a bridge at an airfield located only a few kilometers from Kiev was a guarantee for Russia to be able to quickly drop thousands of men and heavy equipment there, by plane, which could speed up movement, repair and help the Ukrainian armies. Encirclement, and then the capture of Kiev: Hostomel was chosen.
Ashley Stewart, for Global News, returns in a long article to the bitter battle that took place around her and at the airport, with many details and testimonies: this is the story written here, in just a few days.
Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who became the national hero who stopped the “Second Army of the World”, began preparing the airfield for all eventualities, strengthening the presence of troops and equipment on the approaches to Hostomel.
However, it was disbelief that first struck the soldiers and civilians present at the airport on February 24. On the brink Despite all the red flags, many still don’t believe in a full-scale invasion of Russia.
Banner: the day before the attack, in the evening, the An-225 “Mriya” was still being repaired in the Antonov hangars. These ended and, despite the threat, the flying jewel was not flown in as it might have been – the decision, which was fatal to this national pride, is also under investigation.
We were not ready for war. Volodymyr Smos, a civil fleet official stationed at Hostomel, told Global News. The airport was preparing to receive two Boeing and Antonov planes. We have studied missile strikes in the meetings, but not a large-scale invasion.”
This manifested itself in the early morning of February 24, 2022, with the distinctive noise of helicopters circling the ground and descending by the dozens toward the airport. Then Russia sent a small bloc of elite forces, 45H Spetsnaz and light equipment brigade, transported by 11H Russian air assault brigade to seize the airport.
Another video of a Russian air attack in Hostomel. 2/ https://t.co/1VIKvxtoBv pic.twitter.com/Ro70r6df3R
– Rob Lee (@RALee85) February 24, 2022
First view of paratroopers landing in Hostomel on February 3. 24, 2022. The final destination for them all. pic.twitter.com/w3sZrVMFnh
– Ukrainian smart cat 🌪️ 🔥 (SmartUACat) February 24, 2023
Commander Vitaly Rudenko, who was responsible for the defense of the base, could not believe his eyes or ears. “We didn’t see them at first because they were flying so close to the ground, Explains to Ashleigh Stewart and Global News. We saw them when they came out of the treetops and started shooting at the airport. I probably didn’t think it would be possible until the very last moment, that a full-scale invasion was possible, but after the first group of helicopters, I understood that it had already begun.
Mi-24s, Mi-8s and the formidable Ka-52 “Crocodile”: Rudenko estimates the number of helicopters that carried out the first attack on Hostomel at between thirty and forty. Vitaly Rudenko orders his forces to fire on the aircraft, in particular with MANPADS, which are defensive anti-aircraft weapons: he estimates that he shot down six and damaged two more.
– Aldin 🇧🇦 (Aldin_aba) February 24, 2022
On the ground, the escaped helicopters began pouring into the torrent of elite paratroopers. Vitaly Rudenko is brave, but not reckless: in the face of these soldiers, with the small means that he had, direct confrontation would have meant death.
Our enemies outnumbered us in the air, they had more paratroopers, He remembers. To save the lives of my troops, we had to withdraw.”
Video of Russian paratroopers at Antonov Airfield in Hostomel from February 24. https://t.co/og5GWkYGiv pic.twitter.com/vnofqYR0wj
– Rob Lee (@RALee85) June 20, 2022
Technically, the Russians could thus capture Hostomel Airport. But as Rudenko’s men try to salvage their skins to continue the fight later, Ukrainian artillery begins to move in, which has been strangely neglected by attack helicopters from Moscow.
Realizing the need for urgency, Valery Zaluzhny urgently brought the troops to Hostomel. Special forces, artillery and the feared 72nd Georgian LegionH mechanical brigade and 4H The Quick Reaction Brigade, trained to NATO standards, quickly arrives at Hostomel and settles in the vicinity of the airport, in order to contain and harass the Russians.
And this is where everything plays out, at this stage of the battle Kiev and all of Ukraine, perhaps, will save themselves. Troops yellow and blue managed to damage enough runways that Russian giant planes couldn’t land there and dumped thousands of troops and heavy armor that could have changed everything. Already on the way, these Il-76s are forced to turn back.
The Russian plan apparently called for a quick landing of 18 Il-76s, which would have increased the Russian manpower from 300 to nearly 2,500 men, using armor, mortars, and heavy anti-tank and anti-aircraft means. Ukrainian Prime Minister General Zalogny recognized the threat. / 11
– Stéphane Audrand (@AudrandS) February 25, 2023
# Ukraine A year ago on February 25th.
The second thread after the first.
The situation in Hostomel was already looking more complicated for the Russians. https://t.co/4u5twMVZm5
– Cedric Mas (@CedricMas) February 25, 2023
For some time, the situation seemed muddled, as on the evening of the 24th Ukraine claimed to have regained control of the airport. But the next day, the influx of Russian forces into Ukraine entered through Belarus giving a decisive advantage to Moscow’s forces, who captured the airport.
Or rather, what was left of it: the fierce resistance of the Ukrainians made the airport unsuitable for Russian aviation. In other places around Kiev, in Irpin, in Bucha, where the unspeakable atrocity of crimes against civilians will respond to the military massacre of a column of Russian tanks, in Mushun other battles similar to Homer’s take place.
The Ukrainian resistance is fierce and the damage to the Russian forces with poorly organized, poorly directed and with more than botched logistics is enormous. The main work in the defense of Kiev, the destruction of a dam on the Irpin River and the flooding of vast areas of the plains slowed down the advance of the troops from Moscow towards the Ukrainian capital.
Without the support of the forces and materials that the Il-76 was supposed to dump en masse at Hostomel, the Russian Armed Forces failed at the city gates. On March 29, Russia announced its pathetic withdrawal from northern Ukraine, and its forces left the destroyed airport. If it could be turned into a solid and secure bridgehead, then the fate of Kiev could have been completely different.