After almost eight months of constant fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists, the Ukrainian military lost control of the Donetsk Airport, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Taking into account the danger and in order to save lives, … it was decided yesterday to move out of the terminal’s territory and to the new lines,” Vladyslav Seleznyov, the spokesman for the Ukrainian military, said in a briefing.
Fighting over the airport had taken on a new intensity within the past two weeks as Moscow-backed separatists made a concerted push to claim the area.
Video footage has also emerged from Russian state-owned media showing Russian Marines taking part in the assault.
Mark Galeotti, a professor of Global Affairs at NYU with a focus on Russia, wrote that Donetsk airport was of tactical and symbolic value in the current war. Symbolically, the airport represented an “advance intrusion into the heart of the rebellion” by the often tactically challenged Ukrainian military.
To have lost the airport will be “a serious blow to [the military’s] morale and the credibility of the government.”
Galeotti notes that the airport played an important role in the supplying of rebel troops. By holding onto the airport, the Ukrainian military had a chance of encircling Donetsk and choking the rebels off from ammunition. However, now that the airport is in rebel hands the Ukrainians will have a difficult time blockading the rebels.
The loss of the Donetsk airport is a huge loss for the Ukrainian military since the airport was located on a strategically important hill outside of rebel-controlled Donetsk.
The airport has also served an equally important role in Ukraine’s energy and economic security. According to the Financial Times, railways that ship coal from Donbass coalfields to generators throughout Ukraine run alongside the airport. Since supplies from separatist-held regions were cut off, many Ukrainian cities have been plagued by blackouts in recent months.
Below is a before-and-after photo of the Donetsk airport’s air traffic control tower. The tower has since collapsed.
Galeotti also warns that should the rebels manage to clear enough of the airport for it to be remotely usable, Russia could hypothetically mount “their own ‘Berlin Airlift,’ with white-painted aircraft they say are just bringing in relief supplies for the poor, hungry citizens of Donetsk.”
Whether the airport will be at all usable in the near future, given its almost total state of destruction, is difficult to tell. (Check out more before and after photos at The Moscow Times.)
Regardless, Russia has scored a major victory by forcing Ukraine to withdraw from the airport.
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