The clipped nose cone of Antony’s An-225 load plane towers over Yevhen Bashynsky.
Affectionately known as Mriya or “Dream”, the leviathan plane was the pride of Ukraine and 38-year-old Bashynsky, one of its pilots.
This is the first time Bashynsky has returned to see Mriya’s remains.
“It’s hard to be here and see all of this. I destroyed the plane, the clown. “It’s difficult,” he said.
In the first hours of the war, elite Russian paratroopers landed at Antonov airfield, a major cargo airport in Hostomel, northwest of Kyiv. It was supposed to be an anchor point for attacking the capital. The attack was not planned. The Russian forces were surrounded inside the airport, as they had no means of bringing in help quickly.
Word soon got out in aviation circles that Mriya had been injured in battle. When Ukrainian forces took over the airport, the scale of the attack became clear.
The Security Service of Ukraine said on Wednesday that a joint investigation with the national police was launched into the former capital company Antonov’s undermining of an order for the evacuation of an aircraft destined for safety in Germany.
When it flew, the Mriya was designated as one of the superlatives of aviation: the heaviest plane in the world; he carried the longest wings of any man; six turbofan engines with more than 50,000 pounds thrust; carrying capacity of 250 tons.
It was the only one ever, taking its first flight in 1988. It was designed to carry the space shuttle Buran – the Soviet Union’s answer to NASA’s Space Shuttle – on its back. But after Ukraine’s independence, Antonov rebuilt the plane several times.
In the early 2000s, Mriya again began working as a commercial venture. From slow beginnings he found a great angle, says Antonov cargo division executive Ruslan Bykovets.
Satellites, electrical transformers, the delivery of water after the storm – the Ukrainian giant has transported them all, he says. During the Covid-19 pandemic, that relieved a vital medical burden.
Pilot Bashynsky says the plane was a struggle to maneuver on the ground, but a joy to fly — with a huge following from aviation enthusiasts.
“You know you feel like you’re a part of something big. You’re touching something big,” he said.
“It was also a great job because you get a lot of attention. A few days after you fly, you can open YouTube and see everything you’ve done.
In May of last year, probably feeling a significant moment for the country, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine would rebuild the plane.
Antonov officials say another An-225 was partially built but abandoned in the 1990s due to lack of funds. The current plan is to use what they already have as the foundation for the new plane.
Engineers and technicians roamed the wreckage of the Mriya at Hostomel to extract useful parts. They will eventually remove one of the giant wings to try to replace it, says Antonov designer Valery Kostiuk.
“The aircraft will be equipped with modernized machinery. New electronic equipment will be installed on board the plane. Well-known companies will be involved,” he said.
What those companies are and how Ukraine will pay to build the plane is not clear, or has not been disclosed by company officials. It’s impossible to say exactly how much damage the plane will rebuild, but some estimates put it close to billions of dollars. Executive director Antonius Bykovets understands that it is not the highest priority of the war-torn country.
Still, he said, it must be done.
“This plane is a symbol of Ukraine,” he said. “It’s a symbol like the Burj Khalifa or the Statue of Liberty.”