Kyiv was a Russian defeat through the ages. The fight started badly for the intruders and went downhill from there.
When President Vladimir Putin began his war on February 24 after months of reconstruction on Ukraine’s borders, he sent hundreds of helicopter-borne commandos – the best of Russia’s “spetsnaz” special forces – to attack and take an easily defended airfield on the doorstep of Kiev.
Other Russian forces struck elsewhere in Ukraine, including in the eastern city of Kharkiv, as well as in the disputed Donbas region and along the Black Sea coast. But as the seat of national power, Kyiv was the main prize. Thus the driving force from elite airborne forces during the opening hours of the war.
But Putin failed to achieve his goal of quickly crushing Ukraine’s outgund and substandard army. The Russians were ill-prepared for Ukrainian resistance, proved incapable of adapting to adversity, failed to effectively combine air and land operations, misjudged Ukraine’s ability to defend its skies, and squandered basic military functions such as planning and carrying out supplies.
“It’s a really bad combination if you want to conquer a country,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University.
At present, at least Putin’s forces have moved from Kyiv to eastern Ukraine. In the end, the Russian leader can achieve some of his goals. Still, his failure to conquer Kyiv will be remembered for a long time – for how it defied expectations before the war and revealed surprising weaknesses in a military that is considered one of the strongest in the world.
“It’s amazing,” says military historian Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institutes Critical Threats Project, who says he knows of no parallel to a major military power like Russia invading a country at the time of its election and failing so totally.
On the first morning of the war, Russian Mi-8 attack helicopters hovered south towards Kyiv on a mission to attack Hostomel airfield on the northwestern outskirts of the capital. By conquering the airfield, also known as Antonov’s airport, the Russians planned to establish a base from which to fly in more troops and light armored vehicles within striking distance of the heart of the country’s largest city.
It did not work that way. Several Russian helicopters were reported to be hit by missiles even before they arrived at Hostomel, and once they entered the airfield, they suffered heavy artillery fire losses.
An attempt to take control of a military air base in Vasylkiv south of Kyiv also met with strong resistance, and several Russian Il-76 heavy transport planes with paratroopers shot down by Ukrainian defense were reportedly seen.
Although the Russians eventually managed to control Hostomel’s airfields, the Ukrainians’ fierce resistance in the capital region forced a consideration of an invasion plan based on an expectation that the Ukrainians would settle down quickly, the Western world would vibrate and Russian forces would have an easy fight.
Airstrikes behind enemy lines, such as those carried out at Hostomel, are risky and difficult, as the US Army demonstrated on March 24, 2003, when it sent more than 30 Apache attack helicopters into Iraq from Kuwait to strike a division of it. Iraqi Republican Guard. . On the way, the Apaches encountered small arms and anti-aircraft fire that struck one of the helos, injuring others and forcing the mission to be interrupted. Despite this, the US military recovered from that setback and soon conquered Baghdad.
Ukrainians held their land
The fact that the Hostomel attack by the Russian 45th Guard’s special airborne brigade faltered might not stand out in retrospect if the broader Russian operation had improved from that point. But it did not.
The Russians made small and unsuccessful explorations in the heart of Kyiv, and later tried at great cost to encircle the capital by bowing further west.
Against enormous odds, the Ukrainians held their ground and fought back, stopping the Russians and effectively using a wide range of Western weapons, including portable anti-tank weapons from spears, shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and much more.
Last week, the Russians abandoned Hostomel airfield as part of a wholesale deal to Belarus and Russia.