Article by: Alya Shandra
The story of the Donetsk Airport’s defense in Eastern Ukraine turned 140 days on October 13, the TV channel TSN has reported in a special project cyborgs.tsn.ua. After a shelling by Russian militants on May 26, 2014, it has been closed and battles for the airport’s control have raged over the summer and fall. Constructed in 1933, and named after the 20th century composer Sergei Prokofiev who was born in the Donetsk Oblast, the international airport underwent massive reconstruction for the 2012 UEFA European Championship that took place in Poland and Ukraine. The reconstruction сosts exceeded the initial estimate 3,5 times, amounting to $875 mn and giving the airport a 7-floor terminal with a with a capacity of 3,100 passengers per hour, a rather excessive commodity for Donetsk with its population of around a million. During the reign of Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast-born ex-President Yanukovych ousted by Euromaidan such excessive investments from the state budget were a common trick to please the electorate in his home region.
The flag of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) was raised above the airport on April 18, but it kept on functioning until May 25, when armed militants of the DNR “Vostok” battalion entered the premises. The Ukrainian 3rd separate special purpose regiment from Kirovohrad liberated the airport in only a couple of hours on May 26 in a well-planned operation, after which Donetsk airport was upheld by Ukrainian forces in relative calm until late August, when Russia-backed militants first started shelling it with the large batch of Grads that they received from Russia. Tanks with the numbers of regular Russian army divisions masked out started their attacks. Simultaneously, Russia started an active offensive: Ukrainian servicemen were encircled in Ilovaisk and Russians attempted to invade Mariupol. The defenders of the airport were left to face the enemy alone: they repelled attack after attack and could only hope for reinforcements.
Tale of the cyborgs
On September 10, the militants got fresh reinforcements: Russian T-72s directly from the trains, 240-millimeter Tyulpan mortars, which were created for destruction of fortified areas, howitzers and powerful Uragans, mercenaries trained in field camps.
The legend about the “cyborgs” defending the airport was born after these powerful Russian-backed attacks were repelled. And it was the Russian-backed “DNR” militants that first started calling the Ukrainian defenders that.
“Jeez, I don’t know who is defending that airport, but we cant kick them out of there for three months. Tried an assault – got busted ourselves and retreated… I don’t know who is sitting there, but they’re not human, they’re “cyborgs,”-a description of the Ukrainian defenders of the
airport by a so-called “Novorossiya” militant
The intense shelling has destroyed almost all the interior of the airport:
Why hold on?
There have been many theories expressed on why it’s important to hold on to this object, encircled on all sides by enemy forces. Among them are a hypothesis that there are underground tunnels of strategic importance (later debunked by the airport’s architect), that the airport could be used to land enemy airplanes (the runways are now destroyed, but could be easily repaired). It seems now that the most realistic reasons are a strategic one —the Ukrainian army will retain a presence on the outskirts of Donetsk— and also a tactical acknowledgement that a frozen conflict has descended upon Ukraine. Also, the brave defense of the airport has become symbolical of the Ukrainian army’s resistance and heroism.
Who are the cyborgs
The divisions that are taking part in the airport’s defense are:
- 3d separate special regiment (Kirovohrad)
- 93d mechanized brigade (Dnipropetrovsk Oblast)
- 79th aeromobile brigade (Mykolaiv)
- 17th separate tank brigade (Kryvyi Rih)
- Right Sector
Some of the defenders are rather young – among them a Right Sector fighter of only 18 years of age. The cyborgs even find time to read.
The volunteer army supplier of Yuri Biryukov aka Wings Phoenix has taken to visiting the cyborgs and has been bringing them humanitarian aid, as well as things to keep spirits up – the last of which has been Kyiv cakes for a birthday of one of the legendary fighters.
Meanwhile, popular imagination has given the courageous defenders a true cyborg appearance:
As for their spirits and plans, they are best expressed in this tweet, also a fruit of the popular imagination:
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) October 13, 2014