Soldiers with the Ukrainian 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade pose with a Ukrainian flag after retaking the Hostomel Airport northwest of Kyiv, preventing a larger airborne assault. Photo from 4th Rapid Response Brigade Facebook.
Ukrainian forces repulsed an airfield seizure attempt by elite Russian paratroopers attempting to retake a small airport 10 miles outside of the capital of Kyiv during the invasion’s opening hours.
Multiple sources reported that the loss of Hostomel Airport forced a much larger Russian follow-on force to abort a full-scale airborne assault that could have put approximately 2,000 troops on the ground only minutes from downtown Kyiv.
After a day of fighting, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, posted on Facebook that Hostomel (also known as Gostomel) had been retaken, posting: “Now we’ve definitely hit it off. Gostomel Airport is ours. Russian paratroopers have been destroyed.”
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, also said Ukrainian troops had retaken the airport, calling it “the first big victory.” The 4th Rapid Response Brigade’s Facebook page published a celebratory post: “Our guardsmen with their flag, torn to pieces after today’s battle. Congratulations to all of you and say that we will win!”
Hostomel sits roughly 10 miles northwest of Kyiv and normally services cargo flights. Russian forces appeared to have identified the field as a primary invasion target to allow large numbers of forces to be flown in.
A journalist with the open-source investigative website Bellingcat and several Russian flight trackers reported that, with the airport in Russian hands, 18 IL-76 cargo planes — roughly equivalent to American C-17s — were airborne and inbound to Hostomel.
If accurate, that many IL-76s could have delivered 2,000 troops and supporting vehicles.
!!! Ukrainian government sources tell me 18 Il-76 planes have left Pskov direction Kyiv, will arrive in about an hour
— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) February 24, 2022
However, a Ukrainian counterattack pushed the small Russian force off the airfield before the large aircraft arrived. A British citizen who joined the fighting on the Ukraine side provided Coffee or Die Magazine’s Nolan Peterson cell phone footage that captures the sound of the fighting.
Among the Ukrainian defenders of the Hostomel Airport yesterday was Jason, a British volunteer. After a hard drink he shared w/me his story & some videos from yesterday’s combat, including this one
He said Russian helicopter/warplane attacks were intense
“This is fucking war.” pic.twitter.com/zXRICCvLWG
— Nolan Peterson (@nolanwpeterson) February 25, 2022
Several reports said the unit that reclaimed the airport was Ukraine’s 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade, a special operations-style unit based near Kyiv.
An unconfirmed but stunning video appears to show a Ukrainian fighter jet “hunting” the fleeing Russians, firing rockets within feet of civilian homes.
MiG-29 fighter jets of 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade of #Ukraine Air Force are trying to hunt the #RussianArmy airborne troops who are transported by helicopters to the North of #Kiev. This MiG-29 fired S-8 unguided rockets at them who are hiding between civilian houses. pic.twitter.com/CftTv0Cntx
— Babak Taghvaee – Μπάπακ Τακβαίε – بابک تقوایی (@BabakTaghvaee) February 24, 2022
The invasion began Thursday morning with a large-scale air assault. Videos show more than a dozen Mi-17 transport helicopters and Ka-52 and Ka-50 attack helicopters rushing toward the field over Kyiv, carrying paratroopers that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense identified as being from the 11th Guards Air Assault Brigade, a Russian paratroop unit based in Ulan Ude, a city in the eastern portion of the country near Mongolia.
By midmorning, a CNN reporter interviewed Russian troops at the airport who appeared to have secured the grounds.
Pictures and videos taken during the assault showed at least two of the helicopters being shot down.
Editor’s note: The role of Anton Gerashchenko with Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has been corrected.
Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.
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