Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 21.01.2019
In Ukraine, January 20th is a day of renown. On this day in 2015, the heroic defence of Donetsk Airport concluded. Ukrainian soldiers had held on for 242 days against relentless assaults and bombardments by the invading Russian army. “Cyborgs” was the name the Ukrainian public gave to their brave defenders.
The Cyborgs didn’t fail … it’s the concrete that failed. Ukrainian defenders refused to give up their position until the Russians blew up the whole airport and there was nothing left to defend.
The Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in Crimea in February 2014 and in Donbas in April 2014. On 23 May 2014, auxiliary troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation – commanded by Russian officers – attacked the Donetsk airport and seized some of the buildings. The battle for control of Donetsk airport was to last for eight months. In that time, Ukrainian troops never lost control of the airport tower – until relentless Russian shelling destroyed it. Nor did they lose control of the main terminal building until two mighty explosions ripped it apart on 20 January 2015 and it collapsed.
The Cyborgs were “we few, we happy few” (to quote Shakespeare’s Henry V). They have gone down in legend and are revered in Ukraine. The portraits of the 184 men who were killed in the defence of Donetsk airport are displayed on the wall outside St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery. The fallen are honoured in their home towns and villages throughout Ukraine. January 20th is now known as День пам'яті захисників Донецького аеропорту, the Day of the Defenders of Donetsk Airport.
Putin squandered the blood and treasure of Muscovy to wage the Battle of Donetsk Airport. He used his soldiers as cannon fodder with the profligacy of his hero Stalin. Over 800 regular and irregular troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation died for no reason. The invading Russians turned an international airport into a desolate no-man’s land.
Today, the Joint Forces Operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine defends the homeland in this sector of the battlefront from entrenched positions outside of the villages of Pisky and Opytne, and at the Butivka mineshaft. The 1st Army Corps (so-called “DPR”) of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation regularly bombards Ukrainian defenders and civilians from residential areas of occupied territory: from the Oktyabrsky neighbourhood of Donetsk and from Spartak.
To get a sense of the epic, last-ditch defence of Donetsk airport, watch the film “Cyborgs: Heroes Never Die.” It is a fictionalized telling of the story of the defence of Donetsk airport. In its dialogue and action it illustrates the courage of the Ukrainian soldiers as they face overwhelming odds. It also shows why Ukrainian soldiers fought so stubbornly for so long: it was love of the country they were defending and love of their comrades they were saving.
The salute of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!”