It was 5.30 a.m. on a cold winter’s morning at Antonov Airport, when Vitalii Rudenko, a commander of the Ukrainian airfield’s national guard base, awoke to a phone call.
Get up, the duty officer called down the line, and be ready for combat.
Minutes earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin began broadcasting a state address, in which he announced the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine. As the speech finished, booms resounded across Kyiv. Columns of Russian tanks began pouring into the country, heading for the capital.
Rudenko dressed quickly and issued an order for his soldiers to do the same. His unit of about 120 soldiers had been at the Hostomel airport for almost a week, preparing for the possibility of war.
But he didn’t actually believe it would happen.
Rudenko was out the door and en route to the aircraft hangars in his car when the first missile made landfall. It exploded near the airport’s administration building.
“I heard it, but I didn’t see it,” Rudenko tells Global News.
Antonov Airport, an international cargo terminal with a long runway built to handle the world’s largest cargo plane, the Antonov An-225, was a key component of Putin’s planned blitzkrieg on Kyiv. The airbridge would have allowed Russian troops and heavy equipment to be ferried in on large aircraft, leaving just 10 kilometres between them and the gates of the capital.
But Russia never did take Kyiv; because what transpired over the next five weeks was a series of blunders, ending in a humiliating retreat. A slew of tactical errors and miscalculations left the Russians bogged down on the capital’s periphery, stalled by poor military planning, significant logistical problems, low combat readiness and, perhaps most