Easily In Range Of Ukrainian Artillery, Kherson’s Airport Was A Death Trap For Russian Troops

Three days after the Kremlin ordered its starving, battered forces to retreat from the right bank of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast, Ukrainian troops liberated the international airport in the oblast.

No one should be surprised at what the Ukrainians discovered at Chornobaivka Airport, on the northern edge of Kherson city six miles north of the river.

The airport for months had been a veritable shooting gallery for Ukrainian artillery. And many of the victims of the months-long bombardment—wrecked tanks, trucks and radars—still were at the Chornobaivka when the Ukrainian vanguard entered the airport.

Invading Russian troops captured Chornobaivka Airport on Feb. 27, just three days into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine. The Russian armed forces converted the airport into a major base for the 8th and 49th Combined Arms Armies and other formations comprising the Russian garrison in Kherson Oblast.

Helicopter regiments set up shop on the tarmac. Engineers dug coatings for scores of armored vehicles. There were huge supply dumps. Headquarters facilities hosted several top generals and their staffs.

There was one problem, however. Chornobaivka Airport lies just 23 miles south of Mykolaiv. And the Russian offensive north of Kherson ground to a halt well short of Mykolaiv, leaving the airport firmly within range of the Ukrainian army’s artillery and rockets—to say nothing of the Ukrainian air force’s TB-2 drones.

So that huge concentration of troops and vehicles at Chornobaivka Airport became arguably the biggest, and easiest, target for Ukrainian gunners for six months until the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive that ultimately liberated Kherson Oblast right of the Dnipro.

The first Ukrainian strike on the airport—by TB-2s firing laser-guided missiles—came with hours of Russian forces occupying the facility. Two weeks later, Ukrainian artillery bombarded the tarmac. A week after that, on March 16, Ukrainian gunners hit the tarmac again and destroyed at least seven Russian helicopters.

After the March 16 raid, the Russians pulled their aircraft from the airport. But ground forces remained at the airport. And in strikes on March 18 and March 24, Ukrainian gunners killed two generals—one each from the 8th and 49th CAAs. “We caught them again in Chornobaivka,” chortled Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

And so it went for the next five months. Every couple of weeks, Chornobaivka Airport erupted in flames. But Russian troops clung to the airport just like they clung to the rest of Kherson Oblast. Even as their front-line strength bled away and their logistics frayed.

After months of preparatory bombardment, Ukrainian brigades in late August launched a broad counteroffensive across the Kherson front. The Ukrainians steadily advanced, taking a lot of casualties but likely inflicting far more casualties on the exhausted Russians.

The end, when it came, was swift. The Kremlin on Wednesday ordered its forces right of the Dnipro to consolidate on the opposite bank of the wide river. That meant leaving Kherson city and Chornobaivka Airport.

Two days later, the Russians were gone.

The Ukrainian troops who cautiously entered the airport on Saturday discovered a veritable junkyard of wrecked Russian equipment, including at least one T-62 tank, several BMD fighting vehicles, Ural trucks, two Msta-B howitzers, a Buk air-defense system, a Zhitel radio-jammer and a Podlet-K1 radar.

There also were two unflyable Ukrainian army helicopters—an Mi-8 and an Mi-24—that the Ukrainians had abandoned at the airport back in February and still were intact, if badly in need of maintenance, nine months later.

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