Battle for the Donetsk airport – inside story

Battle for the Donetsk airport - inside story 1

The battle for the Donetsk airport was one of the bloodiest in the short Ukrainian war. The main difference between this battle and similar battles around the world in the last decade was in the point that the direct firefight was orchestrated between Ukrainian special forces and the Rebel special forces. Ukrainian forces were supported, trained and equipped by their Western allies while the Rebel forces were supported by their Eastern allies.

In fact, it was a direct firefight between two different tactically orchestrated powers. The battle had two phases, described as the First Battle of the Donetsk airport and the Second Battle of the Donetsk airport. In 2015, a SOF magazine published an interview with a Ukrainian paratrooper who revealed the inside story of the battle for the Donetsk airport. The paratrooper is called Sergei and in the next few lines, you may read his views about Ukrainian conflict and the Battle for Donetsk airport.

His background

I’m 22 years old, and a student at Cherkasy National University. I served in Ukrainian airborne troops in a reconnaissance company and took part in international exercises, during which I made a lot of friends from the United States Army. After serving, I worked in the family business in Cherkasy and studied at the University before the war broke out. But in August, I was mobilized in my unit.

Battle for the Donetsk Airport

Two weeks before our arrival pro-Russian terrorists made an operation to capture the new terminal when the old terminal started to burn. The pro-Russian terrorists destroyed all government tanks, nearby buildings, and started to clear the new terminal. Ukrainian troops inside the building had to leave their positions. Then, a company from our unit, 95th Airmobile Brigade, got the mission to launch a counterattack against the terrorists. After the operation, Ukrainian forces had the 1st and 2nd floors under control. Ten separatists were on the 3rd floor, and they sometimes threw grenades near my position. The basement also was under terrorist control.

Battle for the Donetsk airport - inside story 2
Battle for the Donetsk airport (Photo: Al Jazeera)

In short, under government troops’ control were the old terminal and the new terminal. I was in the new terminal. Our mission was to keep fire positions in that terminal. Our groups were surrounded by enemies. In the new terminal, the 1st and 2nd floor were under our control, while the basement and 3rd floor were under pro-Russian separatists control.

It was one way, drove to us across jetways by IFVs on the maximum speed at night. Our groups consist of airborne, special forces and reconnaissance squads. They shot at our positions with RPGs, AKs, machine guns, missile and mortar artillery, anti-tank missiles, automatic pulled grenades, tanks. The big problem was their snipers.

I was in the new terminal for nine days. Now I’m in Slavyansk, and all of the new terminals are now under government troops’ control…

The enemy snipers

The pro-Russian separatists had a lot of snipers, who shot from different directions. Sometimes I saw a “sunbeam” from optics on the wall when the sun was opposite their positions. The range from them to us was approximately 1000 meters. We didn’t have any counter-snipers with our group in the building. Their snipers killed just two soldiers from a tank, which was blown on a jetway. Our troops were very professional and careful inside the building. but snipers’ bullets flew very close to us…

His training

I took part in international exercises in Ukraine. They lasted for 2 weeks. Instructors taught us of their combat tactics. Officers shared of their combat experience and skills obtained in Afghanistan. And how to work at the checkpoint.

What Sort of Weapons and Gear Did You Have?

In our company, we have AK-74, AKMS, Kalashnikov machine gun PKM, SPG-9, RPG-7, SVD sniper rifle and AGS -17 (automatic grenade-gun). All these kinds of weapons we had at the airport… and also we have 3 infantry fighting vehicles with 14.5mm machine guns, another one we lost at the battle before the airport.

Battle for the Donetsk airport - inside story 3
Map of the Donetsk airport during the conflict (Photo: XY)

Positions of our friendly mortars and reactive artillery approximately 3-5 kilometers from airport.. Artillery was the most important thing in defending of the airport.

Uniform.. you have already seen, that everyone has a personal uniform, bulletproof vest, helmet, ballistic eyewear, boots. We don’t have the same uniform because civilians (who want to help the army) and volunteers buy ammunition and equipment to soldiers (and they buy these things from different shops and countries).

For example, I have a kevlar helmet from Italy, a bulletproof vest from Germany, eyewear from England, a first-aid package from Israel, boots from Germany and Ukrainian uniform.

The heavier weapons

We had RPG-7, RPG-18, RPG-22, RPG-6, anti-tank missiles “Fagot” [AT-4 Spigot] and “Kombat” [AT-14 Spriggan], СПГ-9 [SPG-9] at the terminal.. but big problem to shoot from that kind of weapons from the building.. and the range from terminal to enemies tanks approximately 1000 meters. But our artillery is the best anti-tank weapon at the airport.

Views and opinions expressed in this article is those of interviewed soldier and do not necessarily reflect those of Spec Ops Magazine.