lots trained to fly at night some missions were
flown partially during the daylight. The natural
and man made obstacles they avoided under
different circumstances were now used as
a concealment from the Russian troops equipped with the portable missiles.
The facts about the missions were summarized by General Major Kyrylo Budanov.
As we mentioned earlier, sever missions in
total were flown. Pairs of Mi-8 participated in
six missions. One mission was flown by four
Mi-8 escorted by a Mi-24 which would provide
the covering fire if needed. All supplies were
successfully delivered however on the return
evacuation flights two Mi-8 were shot down.
It happened during the fifth and seventh missions. On the last mission a rescue Mi-8 was
dispatched to help the downed aircraft. The
Russians however antifcipated this and managed to shot down this helicopter as well.
Besides the whole crew four memebers of the
Ukrainian Special Forces were killed.
Alltogether 16 Mi-8 and one Mi-24 took part in
the flights to Mariupol. Out of those two aircraft
were shot down and one rescue helicopter
was lost as well. Besides the supplies these
helicopters transported into the besieged city
72 members of the Azov regiment who volunteered to help their comrades. The former
unit‘s commander, Andrii Bileckyi shared some
details. One of the soldiers transported there
was a Mariupol native code named Kelt. Sadly,
he was killed in action on the second day. „He
died however as he would have wished to. He
told to many of his friends that he wanted to
die at home. He was killed in the street where the house he was born and brought up in
stood. He died right in the heart of his little
homeland.“ said Bileckyi. He also stated that
on one of the last flights five civilian medical
volunteer personnel from Dnipro participated.
There were an anesthesiologist, two surgeons
and a nurse. „I hope one day I will be able to
publish their names. They are the real heros to
me.“ added Bileckyi.
to stay airborne. Their comrades flying behind
them in another helicopter were not so lucky.
After they were hit they crashed with no survivors.
Each pilot was issued a written statement saying it was solely his decision where and under
what conditions he lands. „After we were hit by
a rocket our adrenalin lever rose so we only
did what we were supposed to do. We had 20
wounded people on board. Had we landed in
the field how would we have evacuated them?
It would have been necessary to dispatch another helicopted and that was not an option.
So we continued to our refuelling spot“ said
a pilot. On board he also had 22 years old corporal Vladislav Zahorodny who had been hit
into pelvis during the Mariupol fighting and
his nervers got damaged. During the previous
evacuations his was passed three times for an
airlift. This was his first helicopter flight ever.
A week later Zahorodnyi met his fellow Chernihiv native who was also evacuated from Mariupol, possibly on the very last flight. He used
the codename Buffalo. During the fighting he
lost his leg and suffered some other injuries.
His evacuation details match the 51 years old
pilot’s recollections. He only revealed his first
He flew just one mission but considered it the
most difficult flight of his 30-years long flying
career.“We could have refused to fly but my
crew did not do it. We knew that there are people who need our help“ said Oleksandr. They
carried two tons of supplies from Dnipro and
on the return flight evacuated the wounded.
Soldier Buffalo almost did not make it. He was
lying in the corner of the truck a was too weak
to draw attention to himself.
He was already giving up the idea of being
flown to safety when some one yelled“ „You
left a soldier behind!“ The put him on the top
of the other wounded as there was no room
left. They were shot at after the take off and
they were told later that the pilot evaded the
missile launched from the ship. Looking out
through the small window Buffalo noticed that
they were flying below the treetops. The flight
T-80 tanks belonging to the 36th Marine Brigade abandoned in Mariupol.
description matches Oleksandr’s testimony.
While they were offloanding and loading the
helicopter we remained in our seats. There
were explosions around us and the chopper
was shaking. It was really scary. It took only
20 minutes but to me it felt like two hours“, he
recalled the moments spent on the ground. After the take off he headed over the sea. „I noticed the Russian ship and realized they can hit
us. But my body reacted faster than the brain
registered the danger. There were explosions
nearby. The blast waves were shaking us as
a toy“ he described. His evasive maneovres got
the helicopte our of the dangerous zone. Then
he rushed at 220 kph close to the ground jumping over the electrical lines. After 80 minutes
they arrived in Dnipro. There he was told that
the evacuees want to speak with him. He expected them to curse him out for a bumpy ride
but when he opened the door they thanked him
Sadly even during this flight the second helicopter was lost. Its pilot’s last report stated the
position seven kilometers from the front line
with the remaing 250 liters of fuel.“That was
three times less than our remaining fuel so
I assume they had been hit and damaged. Those were the last words I heard from my friend“, added Oleksandr. After the last mission it
became too dangerous to continue flying them
and they had to be stopped. These seven brave
flights however managed to be recorded in the
history of the air warfare.
Hits and losses
Step by step the Russians learned what was
going on and tightened the front line around
Mariupol. Testimonies of the pilots who took
part in the fifth and seventh missions that suffered losses, appeared in the Ukrainian media.
„We felt the highest level of stress while walking towards our helicopter ready to take off.
Once we were airborne we all knew we had
a job to do and focused to do it as best as we
could“ said a pilot who did not wish that his
name was revealed. According to the testimony of one of his passengers he flew the fifth
mission in the end of March. „When we arrived
in Mariupol we were in the state of euphoria“
described the pilot. But it was not okay. On
the return flight they covered only six kilometers in three minutes when they were hit by a
portable ground-to-air missile which put one
engine out of order. Regardless they managed
Conditions in Azovstal were documented by a member of the Azov Regiment with the codename Orest.