Today, January 20, Ukrainians pay tribute to the warriors who defended Donetsk airport in 2014 and early 2015. What is known as the battle for Donetsk airport became one of the fiercest battles in the ongoing Donbas conflict so far. Both sides took enormous casualties due to day-to-day attacks that lasted from September 2014 till January 20, 2015 – 242 days in total.
The battle was sparked despite a ceasefire agreement, the Minsk agreement that had been in place from 5 September. At the start of the battle, the airport was the last part of Donetsk city held by government forces, and it lied between the separatist and Ukrainian lines of control. Heavy fighting over the airport continued into the New Year, with some of the worst fighting having taken place in January 2015.
On January 20, 2015, the pro-Russian rebels overran Ukrainian positions inside the airport’s new terminal, which actually put the end to the fighting in this area. The Ukrainian forces withdrew to the neighboring village of Pisky, but not until the airport, a strategically important are was almost entirely destroyed by daily mortar and artillery strikes. The remaining Ukrainian forces were either killed, forced to retreat or captured.
The defenders of the airport are often referred to as ‘cyborgs’ – for their resilience and courage in the teeth of gruesome death.