Three days after the Kremlin ordered its starving and battered forces to withdraw from the right bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, southern Ukraine, Ukrainian troops liberated the international airport of the oblast.
No one should be surprised what the Ukrainians discovered at Chornobaivka airport, on the northern edge of the city of Kherson, six miles north of the river.
The airport for month had been a veritable shooting range for the Ukrainian artillery. And many victims of the months-long bombardment – destroyed tanks, trucks and radars – were still at the Chornobaivka when the Ukrainian vanguard entered the airport.
Russian invasion troops captured Chorobaivka airport on February 27, just three days after the start of Russia’s wider war against Ukraine. The Russian Armed Forces converted the airport into a major base for the 8th and 49th Combined Arms Armies and other formations comprising the Russian garrison in Kherson Oblast.
Helicopter regiments set up on the tarmac. Engineers hollowed out liners for dozens of armored vehicles. There were huge supply dumps. The headquarters facilities housed several high-level generals and their staffs.
There was a problem, however. Chorobaivka Airport is just 23 miles south of Mykolaiv. And the Russian offensive north of Kherson stalled long before Mykolaiv, leaving the airport within range of Ukrainian army artillery and rockets, not to mention the army’s TB-2 drones. Ukrainian air.
Thus, this huge concentration of troops and vehicles at Chornobaivka airport became arguably the most important and easiest target for Ukrainian gunners for six months until the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive which finally liberated Kherson Oblast to the right of the Dnipro.
The first Ukrainian strike on the airport – by TB-2s firing laser-guided missiles – was accompanied by hours of Russian forces occupying the facility. Two weeks later, Ukrainian artillery bombards the tarmac. A week later, on March 16, Ukrainian gunners hit the tarmac again and destroyed at least seven Russian helicopters.
After the March 16 raid, the Russians withdrew their aircraft from the airport. But the ground forces remained at the airport. And in the strikes of March 18 and 24, Ukrainian gunners killed two generals, one each from the 8th and 49th CAA. “We caught them again in Chornobaivka,” exclaimed Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
And so on for the next five months. Every two weeks, Chorobaivka airport caught fire. But Russian troops clung to the airport as they clung to the rest of Kherson Oblast. Even as their frontline force bled and their logistics frayed.
After months of preparatory bombardments, the Ukrainian brigades launched a vast counter-offensive on the Kherson front at the end of August. The Ukrainians advanced steadily, claiming many casualties but probably inflicting from afar After losses on the exhausted Russians.
The end, when it came, was quick. The Kremlin on Wednesday ordered its forces on the right of the Dnipro to consolidate on the opposite bank of the wide river. This meant leaving the city of Kherson and Chornobaivka airport.
Two days later, the Russians were gone.
Ukrainian troops who cautiously entered the airport on Saturday discovered a dumping ground for destroyed Russian equipment, including at least one T-62 tank, several BMD combat vehicles, Ural trucks, two Msta-B howitzers, a Buk air defense, a Zhitel radio-jammer and a Podlet-K1 radar.
There were also two unflyable Ukrainian army helicopters – an Mi-8 and an Mi-24 – which the Ukrainians had abandoned at the airport in February and which were still intact, although badly needed. interview, nine months later.