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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Liveblog Day 238
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Why Donetsk Airport Is Important To Both Ukraine And Russian-Backed Separatists
5 years
Heavy Fighting Around Donetsk Airport
National Guardsmen Mutiny And Protest In Kiev

Donetsk Airport is currently in control of a small group of Ukrainian soldiers (that may change today, or very soon) who have been completely surrounded and cut off from reinforcements for months. It is now a small island under Kiev's control surrounded by an ocean of Russian-backed troops who have been hammering at the base with snipers, rockets, tanks, mortars, and machinegun fire for over a month.

It's importance is deeper than this, however. Hromadske TV has a complete explainer of why the airport is so symbolically important. One reason is that the physical airport, which is now in complete ruins, was a symbol of Ukraine modernization. Hromadske explains:

The Sergei Prokofiev International Airport was once hailed as a potent symbol of Donetsk’s transformation from a gritty post-Soviet industrial town to a vibrant, modern city. Completed in time for the European Football Championship in summer 2012, the Donetsk airport was projected to host more than 5 million visitors in 2015. Its facilities and slick glass exterior matched any in Europe for its aesthetics and comforts.

The main airport terminal now:


And why are the rebels so bent on capturing it? One reason is one of the bloodiest battles in this conflict was waged for control of the airport. The terminals of the airport, like many other buildings in Donetsk, were initially captured by the Russian-back rebels last spring, but in May the Ukrainian military captured the airport in a raid. At least 46 separatists (most of them Russian citizens) were killed in the fighting. Helicopters and fighter jets were used by the Ukrainian military to great effect (one might argue that this is one reason why there was an influx of anti-aircraft weapons from Russia in June and July).

Many of the Russian-backed militants felt betrayed by their commander, Aleksandr Khodakovsky, whom some supporters of the Kremlin's cause in Ukraine have described as a defector. Khodakovsky claims that he negotiated a truce with the Ukrainian soldiers to allow the militants to withdraw, but then they were ambushed anyway.

Whether Khodakovsky negotiated a truce which was broken or not, many of the Russian-backed separatists fighting in Ukraine have vowed to avenge their fallen comrades. 

As the summer drew on, the Ukrainian government was making gains around Donetsk and it looked as though the city might be recaptured. In August, Russia dramatically increased direct military support for the militants in eastern Ukraine and many of those gains were erased. The troops defending the airport were soon hopelessly encircled and stuck deep within enemy territory. Since a ceasefire was agreed upon at the end of August, Russian-backed separatists have pounded the airport, ensuring that any Ukrainian military rescue or escape attempt is impossible.

Civilians have been killed in the crossfire, and both Ukrainian military and Russian-backed fighters have suffered heavy losses, but the airport has not fallen yet. Again Hromadske reports:

Ukrainians have fixed their attention to the last remaining hot spot in the country’s east, one which threatens to unravel a fragile ceasefire. The Ukrainian forces’ defense of the airport has earned them hero status among many, but are called “cyborgs” by their enemies.

Read the entire article here for more back story, pictures, and video: Ukraine’s Last Flash Point: Donetsk Airport