Remembering the ruined Donetsk International Airport in Ukraine


Ruins of the Donetsk International Airport. Screenshot from YouTube.

It remains the most famous tweet on the Donetsk International Airport Twitter account. Early in the morning on May 26, 2014, it informed the public that from 7:00 am onward, the airport would stop taking flights. They said they would update the public about when their work would resume at a later time.

That work never resumed; in several months, the new airport terminal had become a major conflict point of the Ukrainian fight against Russia's invasion of the Donetsk region. It was quickly turned to rubble. 

Now, every year on May 26, someone writes under the tweet that they are still waiting for the reopening. 

A violent turn

May 26 was the first morning after the early presidential elections in Ukraine; it was already clear that Petro Poroshenko, an oligarch known primarily for his confectionery business with facilities in Ukraine and Russia, was winning in the first round. 

Poroshenko had a controversial political past, being once a co-founder of the Party of Regions (PR), which later became the biggest pro-Russian political force in Ukraine and one of the closest allies of Viktor Yushchenko, who defeated the PR's Viktor Yanukovych in a presidential race which led to the Orange Revolution in 2004–2005, a mass protest movement against Yanukovych's attempt to steal the election victory. The “orange camp” didn't last long, however. It quickly fell apart, along with the reputation of its leader, as distrust, internal intrigues, power struggles, and public scandals led to the downfall of Yushchenko's 2004–2005 team. 

Poroshenko served as a minister in two subsequent governments, Yushchenko's and Yanukovych's. In 2012 he reappeared in the parliament as an independent candidate and as one of the most authoritative Yanukovych critics. This position propelled him to the presidency when Yanukovich fled the country after his forces killed over one hundred protesters in central Kyiv. Instead of tamping down dissent, the move infuriated hundreds of thousands who then demanded his resignation. 

On the morning of February 20, 2014, when the news spread that Yanukovych had fled the country, Kyiv seemed to be waking up from a nightmare. But while municipal workers and citizens were removing burned vehicles, piling cobblestones that had been uprooted by the protesters, and burying those who had been killed, Russian “green men” without insignia launched an assault on the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula. The Russian state propaganda machine also ignited mass rallies in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. When Russia annexed Crimea in March, an overwhelmed post-revolutionary Ukraine started losing control of its Eastern front. 

Over the spring of 2014, a number of cities and towns fell under the control of local separatists and Russian operatives. The locals who tried to resist were either killed, silenced, or forced to flee. Mass pro-Ukrainian meetings continued in the cities of Donetsk and Mariupol in March and April despite the ongoing attacks. In mid-April, numerous negotiation attempts failed, and the Ukrainian provisionary government launched what it called an “antiterrorist operation” (ATO), effectively a war. 

Only a couple of cities, towns, and villages in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were able to organize the presidential vote on May 25, 2014, as everywhere throughout the area, organizers were threatened and physically attacked. In the town of Dobropillia, where local businessmen stepped out to assist, the bulletins were covertly transported in catafalques. No polling stations opened in Donetsk, a city of one million, which was still not controlled entirely by any side. On the night of May 26, an armed paramilitary group came to the airport demanding the Ukrainian servicemen guarding it withdraw. The same day, fights over the airport began

The (in)famous DAP

Until early 2015, the Donetsk Airport, or simply DAP, and the nearby village of Pisky, the place where the Donetsk rich and powerful used to find quick refuge from city noise and pollution, became the place of the most fierce and long fight of the 2014–2021 war. The Ukrainian soldiers holding it, who the media started to call “cyborgs,” became embodiments of heroism, while some people, and soldiers themselves, questioned the necessity of retaining the DAP. 

When it fell in January 2015, only a couple of locals remained in ruined Pisky. The entire village had become a military holding, one of the Ukrainian strongholds until autumn 2022. Since Ukraine lost the village, the Russian forces developed the assault on Avdiyivka, a satellite town of Donetsk. If Ukrainian forces lost Avdiyivka, it would open the path to the city of Pokrowsk, a railway hub, and the entire region west of Donetsk. 

The DAP, the new terminal of the Donetsk Airport, was built to transport the 2012 European Football Championship guests: Donetsk was one of four Ukrainian cities which co-hosted it. It was part of the city's rapid modernization starting in 2007 when Ukraine won the Euro-2012 bid; Donetsk was flourishing. 

The airport, the city gates, had the biggest symbolic meaning for pro-Western locals. In late March 2014, it was one of six Ukrainian airports where symphonic orchestras performed Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, as a kind of protest against Russian actions in Ukraine and a reminder that the 2013–2014 Maidan protests started from a sudden Yanukovych's refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU. There was no joy on the faces of the Donetsk performers, and the entire performance resembled the famous scene from the “Titanic” movie. 

There is no music coming from the ruins of the DAP airport anymore. Its halls have been toppled, planes have been moved, and visitors have fled. And in its absence, we see a symbol of that pre-revolution Ukraine — something beautiful and filled with potential that has been lost amid Russia's aggression. 


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