The first testimonies emerge among the rescuers and the wounded who were evacuated by helicopter from the steel mill between March and May.
As always before each flight, Oleksandr also on that day passed his hand along the fuselage of the Mi-8, touching its metallic skin. A ritual gesture for this veteran of the Ukrainian Air Force, hoping to bring good luck to him and his crew. They will need it. Their destination – the steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol – was a deadly trap. The other crews were unable to return alive. M.The mission was necessary, but desperate: Ukrainian forces are stuck there, their supplies of water, food and medicine are running out, and the dead and wounded are increasing. Their stubborn resistance in Azovstal was now symbol of ukraine design Not to succumb to Russian aggression. They could not die.
For Oleksandr, this was the most difficult journey of his 30-year career.
He accepted it, captivated the PA, because he did not want the Azovstal fighters to feel forgotten.. In the inferno of that facility, in an underground shelter converted into a dispensary, rumors spread that a miracle could happen. buffaloas he was summoned in battle, he hoped to be List of wounded to be evacuated. The sergeant, who was only twenty years old, on March 23 in one of the streets of Mariupol was hit by a mortar that bloodied his right foot and tore his left leg, and then it was amputated above the knee. So much has passed, and now another deadly challenge looms: escape from Azovstal.
It was one of seven secret missions carried out by helicopters between March and May To reach the defenders of the steel mill and celebrate in Ukraine one of the most heroic military feats of these four months of war. Some had disastrous results. The Ukrainian president first reported on the missions and their deadly cost only after the release of 2,500 Azovstal defenders in agreement with Moscow. Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukraine’s ECTV that the pilots had defied “robust” Russian air defenses by venturing outside enemy lines with food, water, medicine and weapons so that the factory’s defenders could continue the fight and transport the wounded.
The full story of these refueling and rescue missions has yet to be told. But From exclusive interviews to two injured survivors The Associated Press was able to reconstruct one of the last flights, from the viewpoint of lifeguards and rescue workers.
An officer in the Military Intelligence revealed that a helicopter had been shot down, and two others had not returned They are considered missing. he said to Plainclothes Because of his flight, thinking he might have been mistaken for a civilian if he had survived an accident. “We knew it could be a one-way ticket,” Zelensky admitted. . “These are real heroes: they knew what the difficult, almost impossible tasks were. … We lost many drivers ».
The buffalo was transported to the Azovstal plant after his leg was amputated. With a maze of tunnels and bunkers 24 kilometers long, the facility was almost impregnable. But conditions were harsh. “There is shelling going on,” Vladislav Zahorodny, a 22-year-old corporal who was shot in the pelvis during street fighting in Mariupol, confirmed to the PA. Having been evacuated to Azovstal, he met Buffalo there. They already knew each other: they both came from Chernihiv, a city in the north surrounded and devastated by Russian forces.
Zahorodny was evacuated from Azovstal by helicopter on March 31, after three failed attempts. It was his first helicopter flight. The Mi-8 caught fire on its way out, causing one of its engines to fail. The others kept them on the plane for the rest of the 80-minute flight to Dnipro. His liberation was celebrated with a mortar-shaped tattoo on his right forearm: “I did it so I wouldn’t forget,” he explained.
The following week, on the night of April 4-5, it was Buffalo’s turn. He was ambivalent about leaving. On the one hand, he was relieved that his increasingly scarce share of food and water would now go to others still able to fight; On the other hand, “There was a painful sensation. They stayed there and I left them ».
He almost missed his flight, Buffalo. Then the soldiers who took him out of hiding on a stretcher forgot him on the truck that took him to the take-off area with other wounded people. He could not sound the alarm because the mortar hit his throat: his voice was still too hoarse to be heard behind the roar of the helicopter. “I said to myself, ‘Well, not today then. Then suddenly someone shouted: ‘Forgot the soldier in the truck!’ Since the reservation was full, Buffalo was set aside for the others. One of the crew took his hand and told him not to worry, they would go home. ‘All my life – I’ve dreamed of traveling by helicopter. No,’ he replied. It matters if we arrive, my dream has come true.” The buffalo watched the ground below through a hatch. “We flew over the fields, under the trees. We flew very low.”
Oleksandr was also evacuated at night between 4 and 5 April. The minutes seemed like hours, as he was captivated. “I was scared, you see explosions everywhere.” Oleksandr remembers being caught on fire in a ship. at a certain point The helicopter started spinning ‘like a toyHe said. Buffalo also remembers having a blast. right after that The evacuees were told that the pilot avoided launching a missile.
As soon as they landed in Dnipro, Oleksandr heard the wounded call to the pilots. He expected them to scold them for throwing them violently during the flight. “But when I opened the door, I heard some men say, ‘Thank you.'” “Everyone applauded – Buffalo confirmed – the riders told us they did the impossible”
Jun 21 2022 (change on Jun 21, 2022 | 12:51)
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