Be Brave Like Ukraine

On July 28, 2022, Ukrainians celebrated “Statehood Day” as a national holiday for the first time. Coinciding with the holiday, Ukrainian aircraft designer, manufacturer and service company Antonov announced the naming of nine aircraft to honor the heroism and resilience of the Ukrainian people following the invasion by Russia earlier that year. The aircraft involved include seven An-124s, one An-128, one An-158 and one An-178, all of which are named after fallen cities.

The An-124 Ruslan has been a frequent visitor to Paine Field Airport in Everett, Washington, as of late, where it’s been delivering large parts to The Boeing Company. The planes have typically flown in before dawn, quickly unloaded their cargo, and departed mid-morning. However, one of the massive freighters flew in mid-afternoon yesterday during some outstanding winter light. It was on the ground 2-3 hours and departed just before sunset. And let me tell you… our local community of aviation enthusiasts showed up in full force.

Yesterday’s aircraft was UR82008, “Be Brave Like Okhtyrka.” And while these large Ukrainian jets have always been known to draw a crowd, there’s something different now that the country and its people and their freedom have been attacked. To all Ukrainians: your bravery is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Be Brave Like Ukraine.

Goodbye, Mriya

The Antonov An-225 departing MSP International Airport on July 2, 2014. (Chris Lundberg photo)

Every story has an aviation angle.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is no different.

At the break of dawn on Feb. 23, Russian troops moved into Ukraine and launched a series of missile attacks near Kyiv and Kharkiv — the country’s largest and second-largest cities, respectively. By lunch time, roughly 40 soldiers and 10 civilians had been killed. To date, at least 16 children have died.

In a situation unfathomable to many of us, Ukrainian citizens are taking up arms, mixing Molotov cocktails, and building defensive walls — they’re fighting for their lives, risking everything for the precious country they call home.

Families are being separated as men of fighting age are forced to stay, while wives and children flee to Poland and other neighboring countries.

Western countries are imposing sanctions left and right in an effort to cripple Russia’s economy — banning transactions with Russia’s central bank, closing their airspace to Russian planes, and suspending Russian athletes and sports teams from major competitions, to name a few.

On Feb. 24, rumors started circulating that the massive record-setting An-225 Mriya — a one-of-a-kind strategic airlift cargo plane built by Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing company Antonov — had been destroyed in a Russian attack on Antonov Airport in Hostomel, a northwestern suburb of Kyiv. 

The rumors were quickly put to rest when that same day An-225 chief pilot Dmitro Antonov posted on Facebook that the aircraft was intact. However, three days later, the Ukrainian Government confirmed on Twitter that the airplane had in fact been destroyed.

“Mriya” means “Dream” in Ukrainian.

The increasing violence in Ukraine — Eastern Europe’s second-largest country — is terrifying, disheartening and upsetting. For Av Geeks in particular, however, the destruction of the An-225 really struck a chord.

Unsurprisingly, Ukraine has committed to rebuilding the iconic airplane, adding, “We will fulfill our dream of a strong, free and democratic Ukraine.” I have no doubt that after this nightmare is over, the country and its driven, devoted and inspiring people will emerge stronger than ever.

As many of you know, my roots are in Minneapolis, and in the summer of 2014, the An-225 made a visit to MSP International Airport where it attracted thousands of spectators. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them — it would be a couple years before I got into aviation. On the eve of its departure out of MSP, I was just relaxing in our 18th floor apartment downtown. I heard a massive roar, unlike anything I had heard before. My husband Scott and I raced to the window and saw this gigantic blue and yellow airplane fly low and slow right over head.

I am grateful to have since met so many outstanding aviation photographers, including the wildly talented Chris Lundberg (@airandskyspotter) who graciously granted me permission to use his stunning photo for this post.

To everyone in Ukraine: We stand with you.