Meet Ukraine’s legend: the cyborgs defending Donetsk airport

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2014/10/13 • Featured, War in the Donbas

Article by: Alya Shandra

A defensive operation that has been  followed by millions of observers, a strip of land that hundreds of fighters have torn into, 15 powerful enemy attacks, at least 20 heroes who never returned home, a legend of “cyborgs” – this is how the defense of the Donetsk airport will be remembered by Ukrainians. That is how it will go down in history.
Donetsk airport after reconstruction was finished on May 14, 2012

Donetsk airport after reconstruction was finished on May 14, 2012

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.

First attacks

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
From that time one, the defenders are called only that, “cyborgs.” The Ukrainian fighters later told that they don’t recognize ranks and titles among themselves. The enemy’s fire has instated a battle brotherhood that only heroes know of. Their days and nights have passed in repelling attacks throughout weeks without end. Ukraine’s warriors withstood fierce shellings, crushed enemy tanks, and fought like lions.
What is left of Donetsk airport after 5 months of attacks

What is left of Donetsk airport after 5 months of attacks

 In late September, the airport became an ATO hotspot. The militants drew all their “elite” divisions to it: Vostok, Motorolla, Kalmius was transfered here from the South front. Their leaders promised: tomorrow the airport will be theirs.  Light guns, grenade launchers and heavy caliber guns fired at the airport from a residential building. The dispatching tower was shelled with anti-tank guns, and tanks pounded the terminals from a distance of 200 meters.
A video of the shelling of the airport on September 25 is below:

The militant leaders first declared that they seized control of the airport on September 30, then on October 3, and after that on October 5. But in reality the DNR militants have moved forward only 500 meters over the last month. Battles are now being held not for the airport, but for its ruins. The terminals are fully destroyed, the warehouses of fuels and lubricants have been blown up. But the Ukrainian flag still flies above the tower, which by some miracle still withstands the daily attacks.
Dispatching tower in Donetsk airport with Ukrainian flag on top

Dispatching tower in Donetsk airport crowned by Ukrainian flag

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:

Source: cyborgs.tsn.ua

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  • Conan Edogawa SCL

    Congrats.

  • Donald Casavant

    To the men of:

    3d separate special regiment (Kirovohrad)
    93d mechanized brigade (Dnipropetrovsk Oblast)
    79th air-mobile brigade (Mykolaiv)
    17th separate tank brigade (Kryvyi Rih)
    Right Sector
    In this day and age legends are difficult to believe, however your bravery, fighting ability, and dedication to your country will be remembered and talked about for many generations!
    Thank you for your courage and congratulations on achieving well deserved legendary status!

  • Joni Pelkonen

    Russians have learned once again that criminals make for really bad soldiers.

  • Murf

    In a word: Epic.
    Ina war that has seen it’s share of cowards and villains, These guys are true heros
    For me it’s like watching the great battles of history playing in real life. Every day the shelling goes on. The rebels attack and I think “this is it to day they win.”
    Yet every time that bunch of Crazy Muther Fuckers (that’s the highest compliment an American serviceman can pay them by the way) throw them back bleeding and bloody.
    Out of the cauldron of this war Ukraine is forging a new identity It’s own set of myths and traditions that will define her people for generations to come.
    The story of the Cyborgs at Dontsk Airport will be one of the most important.

    • Vasily_B

      So, are you American serviceman ? Thank you very much !
      I’m not even Ukrainian, I’m Russian, from Moscow. I think that all the adequate people in the world must support Ukrainian army and fight against Putin’s lie

      • Milton Devonair

        Good for you Vasily. Be very careful as you are living in the ‘old times’ of nkvd/kgb. If you make yourself become noticed, they will come and get you.

        http://imrussia.org/en/analysis

      • Murf

        Vasily, there is nothing wrong with of land and people but objecting to a policy.
        There is nothing wrong with objecting to a policy or action and still doing your duty as a soldier. Choices can be… difficult. But if being a soldier was easy Girl Scouts girls would do it.
        Be careful. From appearances in the media(and that may be incorrect) these are not tolerant times in Russia.
        Good luck Sir.

        • Vasily_B

          But imagine that you are a soldier of empire of lies. They told that your duty to protect Russians, but in fact you attack another country. Not a dictatorship, but a newborn democracy, where volunteers even provide supplies to their own army…
          There are Russian soldiers who fight on the right side, against their own sick country

      • Guest

        Vasily, those who stand against own country’s policy heading in wrong directions and against nationalistic / jingoistic hysteria are true patriot.

        Kudos.

    • Donald Casavant

      Well said Murf! I have thought all along when I read your post that you were “connected” Too much accurate detail about weapon systems to be a “fu#kin civilian”!!!!

      • Murf

        Thanks, I should qualify that as “former” I have been out for a while.
        Don’t want to misrepresent.

        • Donald Casavant

          Everyone is a “former” something! You were one of the good guys that is all that matters! Thanks for your service! Us “former” guys must stick together!!

          • Murf

            Hooah!

  • Milton Devonair

    Outstanding that the flag of Ukraine still if flying proudly above the control tower.
    Hopefully the Ukrainians are getting drones, so they can see where the terrorists are setting up their mortars/artillery and have counter battery fire with Ukrainian artillery, killing the invading rapists and murdering russians and chechens.

    Fear of this is why the russians and chechens set up their mortars/artillery/rockets in school yards, government buildings, areas with a lot of houses. Muslim terrorists have been doing this for decades when firing into the cities of Israel. russia has been doing this and is doing this in Ukraine.

    The Cyborgs also need very long range sniping rifles with ammunition and observation scopes. For the latter, even less expensive telescopes for stargazing would work. These can be the ‘spotting scopes’ for the 12.7 machine guns to shoot at the invading terrorists at a distance. The further out you kill them, the safer you will be and the better it will be for Ukraine.

    In a large building, like an airport, there’s a lot of open space so when the shelling first starts, it’s the most dangerous because the shrapnel can fly through the air unimpeded. However, as the builing becomes destroyed, what that does is create ‘walls’ of rubble, thus protecting the Ukrainians inside from shrapnel. The russians and chechens are helping you defend Ukraine. This will also provide you cover to fire and protect you.

    Make sure you small arms have overlapping fields of fire. Try not to shoot directly ahead of your, rather have your fields of fire (where you’ll shoot) off at an angle, say 45*. This way, when people are firing at you, they’ll not hit you, but the protection in front of you. And when you shoot them, you’ll be shooting them from their side.

    Put people out in an area where these angled fields of fire overlap each other, protecting each others. This way, I would be shooting at someone right in front of you, you would be shooting someone in front of me, and if they return fire to their front, they’d hit nothing.

    Hopefully more night vision gear is coming to you.
    Kill the invaders.
    Protect Ukrainians.
    Protect Ukraine.
    Glory to Ukraine, Glory to Ukraine.

  • sandy miller

    These soldiers make me proud to be Ukrainian…..true hero’s. May God Bless them for their honor and patriotism. I’m ashamed of those Ukrainians that are traitors to their country.

    • Donald Casavant

      I am very happy to see postings that are so positive towards the fighting men of the Ukraine from Ukrainian people! I hope there are millions more like you Sandy!

  • Svarun

    Who’d tough?

    – Spartans held Thermopylae for 3 days
    – Cyborgs are holding Donetsk AP for 6 months – and keep on counting

    Spartans got nothing on Cyborgs, the living legends!

    • Donald Casavant

      Great post!!

  • Ihor Wyn

    This will be a great movie someday. Based on this reality hoorah to Ukrainian cossak cyborgs. Your blood is my blood. You are my brothers always fighting for true freedom.God protect all of you!

  • Steve Robinson

    The 300 Spartans at Thermopalyae, the Ukrainian Army at Donetsk Airport… HOLD!

  • Murf

    Any news?
    The Rebels keep talkn’ shit about taking it but you never see the rag of a flag over the tower.

    • Don Casavant

      All the terrorists can do is talk shit! It is still under the control of the Ukrainian forces!

  • dok

    To the brave men defending the Donetsk airport from the Russian invaders, I salute you. You make us all proud. It is an example of the dedication and hard work and sacrifice by the people of Ukraine on behalf of their country. Now if we can only get rid of the corruption and incompetence at some levels in the military and government, then we can truly start building a strong and prosperous country in Ukraine. These brave men are a good example of how to do it.

  • http://google.hu/ Tooni

    I think, slowly but surely Ukraine is pulling out its troops from the airport. There weren’t any news that there was a battle for the old terminal when russians occupied it. Maybe their position became unstable, maybe there was a political decision to abandon the whole area and leave it to the puppetmaster. Their goal was fulfilled, it was to stop the russian advance long enough for the sanctions to hit the russian economy. Their plan to take Ukraine’s east is in rubbles, just like the airport. And the rubels…

  • Being

    Glory to Ukraine Cyborgs!

    How are they now? Do they write any book? Where can I get it?

    • Shade Shadeborn

      They all dead…you know, like worm food. Scatered piece by piece in million pieces across the airport along with other ukrainian terrorists.

  • Shade Shadeborn

    Glory to dead worm eaten ukrainian terrorists who was shelling Donetsk.