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When the Russians Picked the Wrong Town to Invade

VASYLKIV, Ukraine — The accounts of resistance within the small garrison city of Vasylkiv have already taken on the sheen of legend. There are experiences of Russian transport planes shot down, paratroopers hunted within the woods and even an unknown Ukrainian pilot nicknamed the Ghost of Kyiv defending the skies.

Hyperboles apart, the folks of this quiet provincial city of tree-lined streets and low-rise buildings courting again to the Russian empire managed to combat off Russian troops within the essential opening days of the warfare, stopping Russian forces from capturing strategic bases that would have allowed the nation’s capital, Kyiv, to be encircled.

Vasylkiv — residence to an aviation faculty that has skilled generations of pilots, a counterterrorism job drive and an air protection command middle that protects the capital and central Ukraine — grew to become one of many first targets of a Russian assault within the first hours and days of the warfare. Cruise missiles slammed into the air base, after which Russian airborne forces attacked in a collection of floor assaults.

They didn’t prevail. Accounts from residents, authorities officers, armed forces personnel and civilians who’ve enlisted territorial protection models described how Ukraine rebuffed the Russian assault and helped forestall Russia’s wider goals to grab management of the nation.

An air base on the sting of Vasylkiv was among the many first targets hit at 5 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 24, within the opening salvos of the warfare. The strikes broken buildings, gear and air protection methods.

Russian airborne troops had been dropped into close by villages and started an assault, native officers and officers stated. The Russian troopers attacked throughout an air raid, utilizing it to their benefit as Ukrainian troops took cowl in bomb shelters.

“After the airstrikes, they tried to check the perimeter,” stated one air drive officer concerned in preventing in certainly one of a number of navy installations within the space, talking provided that he solely be recognized by his rank — a serious — and his navy code identify, [email protected] “They tried to sneak inside they usually managed.”

For safety causes, the officer didn’t specify precisely the place the battles came about, besides to say the Kyiv area.

The Russian attackers had almost definitely been dropped by helicopter in villages away from their goal and superior on foot, he and others officers stated. They attacked two separate navy targets, and for 4 days Ukrainian forces fended off a number of assaults. At one level, he stated, the Russians succeeded in coming into one compound however retreated once more after taking casualties.

Officers stated that a number of the Russian attackers had been already current within the city, and had been residing as sleeper cells for months. Town mayor, Natalia Balasynovych, stated some had even purchased flats in a brand new residential complicated and moved in with their households for canopy.

The Ukrainian navy claimed on the time that certainly one of its fighter jets had shot down a Russian transport plane that very same night time. There have been additionally media experiences that two navy cargo planes headed for Vasylkiv had been intercepted and downed by Ukrainian air defenses.

However the wreckage of any downed planes has proved elusive. Members of the territorial protection models, lots of them ex-military volunteers in addition to native hunters, stated they’ve combed the woods and surrounding countryside however haven’t discovered wreckage of any planes.

However Ukraine’s skies had been stuffed with Russian helicopters within the first nights of the warfare, stated Yuriy Ignat, public relations officer on the Ukrainian Air Drive Command. “We don’t assume they got here in large planes, however there have been many saboteur teams in lots of locations.”

By the fourth night time of the warfare, the Russian attackers had regrouped and had been higher organized, stated the air drive officer, [email protected], a member of the short response unit that was concerned within the battle.

He stated the Russians had been geared up with assault rifles, silencers and night time imaginative and prescient goggles, enabling to them to assault at midnight.

“At 4 a.m., when the preventing began our guard was shot silently, within the head, in full darkness,” he stated.

A fierce firefight broke out because the Russians entered the compound, he stated. The Ukrainians swiftly misplaced six males killed, with two wounded. However with correct hearth and hurling grenades, he stated they managed to kill 5 of the attackers and wound a sixth, forcing the remaining Russians to retreat.

“We’re fortunate they didn’t know the right way to throw grenades correctly,” [email protected] stated of the Russians. “If that they had managed to throw grenades, it will be very unhappy,” suggesting the Ukrainians may have been overrun.

The Russians appeared to have had again up, as a result of there have been indicators they dragged their lifeless and wounded with them. “We noticed the blood stains however discovered no our bodies,” [email protected] stated. They even retrieved their shell casings, he stated.

He stated he was the one Ukrainians with a thermal imaging night time imaginative and prescient and was in a position to shoot three of the attackers. He mourned his misplaced comrades, who he stated didn’t have the identical benefit. “The toughest factor, as at all times, is to lose your mates,” he stated.

The attackers had left an indication on the asphalt of the territory, suggesting they had been members of Alpha, Russia’s elite particular forces unit, he stated. He confirmed {a photograph} on his cellphone of a chalked signal on the asphalt with the symbols “A” for Alpha and a “Z,” the letter utilized by the primary Russian battle group preventing in Ukraine. The signal was two yards broad, he stated, probably meant to be seen from the air.

After that battle on Feb. 26, the Ukrainians noticed scouts conducting reconnaissance across the perimeter of their bases, however the Russians didn’t mount any additional assaults. Then, a few week in the past, they disappeared altogether.

Contained in the bases, the trouble was underway to restore and reactivate a few of Vasylkiv’s air defenses broken the primary night time.

The airstrikes had been “very painful however not lethal,” stated Konstantin, an air protection serviceman who spoke provided that solely his first identify be printed, with no point out of his rank.

Buildings and gear had been broken, however they managed to salvage a working system inside days, Konstantin stated. “If we’ve got two destroyed vehicles, we will construct one,” he stated.

However, Ukraine’s air protection gear dated from the Nineteen Seventies and Eighties, and was far much less subtle than the methods being utilized by the Russians, he stated. A single missile would present on the Ukrainian radar, however once they shot it down, he stated, they discovered a second missile was behind it that may hit the goal.

Vasylkiv was been focused repeatedly in missile and rocket assaults within the weeks since, as has the capital, Kyiv, and Ukrainian defenses have struggled to intercept all of them, he stated.

“It was like a heavy waves of strikes,” Konstantin stated. “Our defenses couldn’t hit all of them down on the similar time.”

He added, “You will need to say that with trendy gear we may cease all of the airstrikes.”

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