When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the goals were big: take Kiev by storm, overthrow the government, and then control the entire country. But this plan was to fail – also because of the courageous and important action taken by the Ukrainian army in the first hours of the war.
Some of the soldiers defending Ukraine against Russian troops on the morning of the outbreak of war belonged to the 40th Tactical Air Brigade.
Their air base, the Vasylkiv air base 30 kilometers southwest of Kiev, was one of the first military targets targeted by Putin’s army. Eventually, as one of the four brigades, she operated some of the 50 supersonic jets in the country.
However, the rockets and missiles fired by Moscow’s troops at the base missed their target – according to US intelligence information, the Ukrainian army had previously stationed the jets in different locations around the country to make Russian targeting more difficult.
According to Forbes, five fighter jet pilots climbed up shortly after sunrise in the supersonic jets, which were protected from the attacks. Together with four other fighter jet pilots, they set course for Hostomel, a military airport about 40 kilometers north of his air base. 24 Russian transport helicopters, ten combat helicopters and several combat aircraft with a total of 700 Russian soldiers on board were heading for it. They were supposed to capture and occupy the military airport and thus ensure the flight of thousands of troops via the airport, while at the same time the Russian ground forces were advancing from the north-west and north-east of Ukraine.
But then they reckoned without the 40th Tactical Air Brigade, which attacked the Russian formation approaching Hostomel. According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, only lieutenant colonel and fighter jet pilot Vyacheslav Yerko shot down two of the attack helicopters; the other pilots and the air defense troops on the ground took two more helicopters out of the sky.
The brigade had thus breached Russian air supplies and deprived the Russian ground forces at Hostomel of any air support vital to the capture of the airport. The Ukrainian troops then fired at the Russian soldiers who had been handed over to them with low-flying Sukhoi bombers and held the airport until Ukrainian special forces and more heavily equipped troops arrived in Hostomel and also repelled the advancing Russian troops with heavy artillery.
Yerko also shot down two Sukhoi fighter jets in the next 24 hours, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. Then, on February 25, the lieutenant colonel himself was hit by Russian troops. He ejected himself out of his crashing jet. But while he slid to the ground with his parachute, “cowardly” Russian soldiers then shot him, according to the Ministry of Defense. What happened to the other four fighter jet pilots is not known.
For his service in the war, Yerko was then awarded the title “Hero of Ukraine, Order of the Gold Star” by President Zelenskyy three months after his death, when Ukrainian troops pushed the Russian invaders out of northern Ukraine. It was thanks to his bravery and marksmanship that the 40th Tactical Air Brigade repelled Russian troops outside Hostomel Airport in those late February days. Putin’s army should never take the airport in the coming months either.