Supply and evacuation flights to Mariupol were really low-level flights.
Ukrainian Mi-8MSB-V helicopters in a shot before the war.
During one mission to Mariupol, Mi-8 helicopters were also accompanied by one Mi-24 attack helicopter as fire support.
Besides the arms and ammunition the food
and medicine were carried on the flights to
Mariupol. They took off at 3:30 in the morning.
Flint was facing „Sophie’s choice“ where to sit
in the helicopter. He could sit next to the fuel
tank and if the helicopter was hit he would be
instantly killed. Or he could sit on the ammunition boxes and in case of crash he would break
all his limbs as a minimum. „We realized this
can be a one way flight and were prepared not
to return“, said Flint. At the same time they
realized that the besieged Ukrainian soldiers
desperately needed their help and once they
were airborne the worries dissipated.
First the Mi-8 helicopters landed right near the
front line, at the field base where they refuelled. Then they rushed throught the night at
220 kph and 5 meters above the ground. The
pilots had to escape the enemy radar. On the
other hand they had to dribble among trees
and electrical poles. The moment of surprise
worked though and the helicopters safely reached Mariupol.
The pilots landed in Azovstal steelworks area
which is 11 square kilometers. There was
a 24 km long network of the concrete shelters and tunnels underneath, this was the best
protected place in the whole Mariupol. There
was a field hospital underground from which
the helicopters were to evacuate the gravely
wounded soldiers. The pilots had to seek the
landing area which was the least littered by
debris and craters. Then the factory defenders
emerged from the underground, off loaded the
supplies and loaded 16 wounded soldiers who
were brought on trucks. It all took approximately 15-20 minutes and all that time the helicopters were running their engines ready to
take off immediately if the danger presented
itself. When the wounded were on board the
defenders had to camouflage the helicopters‘
departure. They commenced a wild gunfire at
the Russian positions to distract the enemy‘s attention. During this shoot out the helicopters disappeared unnoticed flying close to the
Without being fired at on the return flight they
again landed near the front line to refuel and
at 7:30 am landed at Dnipro. The whole mission lasted four hours. „These are the exeptional emotions when you are handing over the
wounded to the doctors‘ hands and you realized you achieved something absolutely impossible. You feel happiness and pride of your
people“ described Flint his emotional state after the landing.
Further missions were more and more difficult to fly. During the second flight the Russians were shooting at the helicopter, its pilot
however managed to successfully land at the
refueling spot. That place kept changing as
well as the helicopters‘ flight routes. Sometimes they flew over the land, another time they
flew over the sea and returned to the land having made a wide turn. Flint recalled how during one mission the Ukrainian helicopter flew
very close to the water surface between two
patrolling Russian ships. Due to the lack of pi-