First Battle of Donetsk Airport

The First Battle of Donetsk Airport was a battle between fighters associated with the Donetsk People's Republic and Ukrainian government forces that took place at Donetsk International Airport on 26–27 May 2014, as part of the war in Donbas that began after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.[9] A second battle broke out at the airport on 28 September 2014.

First Battle of Donetsk Airport
Part of the war in Donbas
First Battle of Donetsk Airport
Donetsk Airport before its destruction
Date26–27 May 2014 (1 day)
Donetsk International Airport
Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Result Ukrainian victory

 Donetsk People's Republic

Commanders and leaders
Maksym Shapoval Unknown
Units involved

Armed Forces of Ukraine:

Эмблема МВД Украины.svg Internal Affairs Ministry:

Donbas People's Militia:

  • Unknown number of troops
200 fighters[6]
Casualties and losses
None[7] 33–50 killed[8]
43 wounded[6]
2 civilians killed[8]


The Ukrainian government started an "anti-terrorist" operation against pro-Russian fighters in the Donetsk Oblast in early April 2014. Pro-Russian protesters and insurgents affiliated with the Donetsk People's Republic captured and occupied numerous government buildings, towns, and territories in the region. In Donetsk city itself, many government buildings were under separatist control. Donetsk International Airport remained outside of insurgent control.


During the morning of 26 May, pro-Russian fighters captured the terminal buildings of Donetsk International Airport, and demanded the withdrawal of government forces from the area.[10][6] They also blocked off the road to the airport. Soon after, the National Guard of Ukraine issued an ultimatum to the insurgents, which said that they should surrender immediately. This was rejected, causing paratroopers to launch an assault on the airport, accompanied by airstrikes against pro-Russian positions.[11] Attack helicopters were also used to target insurgent anti-aircraft guns.[12] Lorries with Donetsk reinforcements were seen heading towards the airport.[13] As evening fell, government forces pushed the Donetsk fighters out.[14] They then launched a counterattack that was repelled by government forces.[15] Sporadic gunfire was heard during the night, making it unclear if government soldiers were in full control of the airport.[14]

The next day, both Ukrainian and pro-Russian leaders confirmed that Ukrainian forces were in full control of the airport,[7] but by mid-morning, machine gun fire could still be heard on one of the main roads leading to the airport. Insurgents built barricades on the road to the airport.[16][17] Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko urged all residents to stay in their homes.[18] During the fighting, Druzhba Arena, home of the Kontinental Hockey League team HC Donbass, was ransacked by pro-Russian insurgents, who looted the building, destroyed surveillance equipment, and set it on fire.[7][19]

In the days following the battle, anger toward the Ukrainian government grew among some local residents. According to one resident, many people were thinking of joining the insurgency if government military operations continued.[20] Sporadic fighting also continued, with at least one insurgent being killed in a firefight on 29 May. Six other insurgents died on 31 May, after they attempted to retrieve the bodies of their comrades at the site of the airport battle.[21]


Mayor of Donetsk Oleksandr Lukyanchenko said the death toll in the clashes stood at forty, almost all of them separatist insurgents, as well as two civilians.[22] The city morgue reported a death toll of thirty-three insurgents and two civilians.[8] Forty-three insurgents were wounded.[6] DPR leaders Alexander Borodai and Denis Pushilin put the death toll at 100, with half being insurgents and the other half being civilians.[23][24] This number was considered inflated by the Ukrainian government, and an attempt to lure Russia to intervene in the Donbas.[25] Ukrainian officials reported no losses.[7] 15–35[26] of the insurgents were reportedly killed in a single incident when two lorries carrying wounded fighters away from the airport were ambushed in a friendly-fire incident by the Vostok Battalion, which confused them for Ukrainian forces[27][28][29] (separatist "prime minister" Aleksander Boroday announced that they had been ambushed by Ukrainian ground forces and hit by airstrikes).[26][28] Thirty-four of the dead insurgents were Russian nationals and Donetsk insurgents claimed the bodies were returned to Russia.[30] It was later revealed the bodies were returned covertly to hide the fact that they were Russian, eventually ending up in a Rostov-on-Don morgue in the Russian Federation.[31]

Among the dead on the pro-Russian side were former Russian Airborne Troops of the 45th regiment special forces,[31] Soviet–Afghan War veterans,[31] and world kick-boxing champion Nikolai Leonov who was a native of Dnipropetrovsk.[32]

Chechen involvementEdit

It was claimed and later verified kadyrovtsy came to Donetsk to fight alongside the insurgents.[3] Although Kadyrov denied that he sent Chechens to Donetsk,[citation needed] one Chechen fighter claimed that Kadyrov had given them an order to go to Ukraine.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Volunteers or paid fighters? The Vostok Battalion looms large in war with Kiev". The Guardian. 6 June 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Meet the Russian Orthodox Army, Ukrainian Separatists' Shock Troops". NBC News. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Weaver, Courtney (27 May 2014). "Chechens join pro-Russians in battle for east Ukraine". Financial Times. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  4. ^ Roth, Andrew; Sabrina Tavernisemay (27 May 2014). "Russians Revealed Among Ukraine Fighters". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  5. ^ Bender, Jeremy (28 May 2014). "Chechen Militants Are Now Spreading Chaos in Ukraine". Business Insider. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d Walker, Shaun (27 May 2014). "Ukraine says it controls Donetsk airport after fighting leaves dozens dead". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d "Fighting rages in eastern Ukraine city, dozens dead". Reuters. 27 May 2014.
  8. ^ a b c Roberts, Jim; Christopher Miller (28 May 2014). "Ukraine Government Claims Control of Airport; Up to 50 Separatists Are Killed". Mashable. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Donetsk Airport Cyborgs". Ukraine Today. 15 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Ukraine crisis: pro-Russian rebels seize Donetsk airport". The Daily Telegraph. 26 May 2014. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  11. ^ MacDonald, Alastair; Yannis Behrakis (27 May 2014). "Battle at Donetsk airport; new Ukraine leader says no talks with 'terrorists'". Reuters. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  12. ^ "Ukrainian army battles Kremlin-backed separatists in Donetsk; at least one civilian killed in crossfire". Kyiv Post. 26 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  13. ^ Paton Walsh, Nick; Ralph Ellis (26 May 2014). "Ukrainian troops, separatists battle at Donetsk airport". CNN. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  14. ^ a b Tavernise, Sabrina; Andrew Roth (26 May 2014). "Ukraine Forces Appear to Oust Rebels From Airport in East". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  15. ^ "Ukraine crisis: Stand-off amid fight for Donetsk airport". BBC News. 27 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  16. ^ "East Ukraine city largely calm after battle, rebels seek Russian help". Worldbulletin. 28 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  17. ^ Walker, Shaun (27 May 2014). "Ukraine says it controls Donetsk airport after fighting leaves dozens dead". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  18. ^ "Ukraine crisis: Dozens reported killed in eastern fighting". CBC News. Associated Press. 27 May 2014. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  19. ^ Babiak, Mat (27 May 2014). "Pro-Russian Gunmen Loot & Torch HC Donbass Arena". Euromaidan PR. Archived from the original on 30 May 2014.
  20. ^ Luhn, Alec (30 May 2014). "Poroshenko vows to punish rebels who shot down Ukraine helicopter". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  21. ^ Grove, Thomas; Gabriela Baczynska (31 May 2014). "Six Ukrainian separatists killed around Donetsk airport". Reuters. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  22. ^ Zawadzki, Sabina; Gabriela Baczynska (27 May 2014). "Fighting rages in Ukraine eastern city, dozens dead". Reuters. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  23. ^ Vladimir Radyuhin (27 May 2014). "Over 100 killed in fierce Kiev onslaught". The Hindu. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  24. ^ Peter Leonard (27 May 2014). "Dozens dead, morgues overflowing after siege turns one of Ukraine's largest airports into a war zone". National Post. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  25. ^ Burnbaum, Michael; Fredrick Kunkle (27 May 2014). "Ukraine's military retakes airport seized by rebels in Donetsk". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  26. ^ a b "Donetsk announces mobilization of medical personnel after at least twenty-four people were killed in attack". Voice of Russia. 27 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  27. ^ Kofman, Michael; Migacheva, Katya; Nichiporuk, Brian; Tkacheva; Radin, Andrew; Oberholtzer, Jenny (18 April 2017). Lessons from Russia's Operations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Rand Corporation. p. 43. ISBN 9780833096067.
  28. ^ a b Shakirov, Mumin (13 July 2014). "Interview: I Was A Separatist Fighter In Ukraine". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  29. ^ El Murid (26 May 2014). "Недели три назад я разговаривал с людьми, которые непосредственно участвовали в одной из самых неудачных операций донецкого ополчения - попытке захвата аэропорта в Донецке. По моей просьбе они составили текст, в котором относительно подробно описали происходившее с точки зрения непосредственного участника. Ниже этот текст, целиком, как пришел" [Three weeks ago, I spoke with people who were directly involved in one of the most unsuccessful operations of Donetsk militia—an attempt to capture the airport in Donetsk. Per my request, they put together a text in which they describe in detail what was happening from the point of view of a direct participant. Below is this text, in full.]. El_Murid (blog). Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  30. ^ "Donetsk militants send 34 pro-Russian separatists bodies to Russia – leader". Kyiv Post. 30 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  31. ^ a b c Kostyuchenko, Elena (27 June 2014). "Battle for Donetsk airport: the story of one Russian fighter". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  32. ^ "World champion in kick-boxing is among victims at Donetsk airport". Voice of Russia. 31 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 48°04′30″N 37°43′32″E / 48.0750°N 37.7256°E / 48.0750; 37.7256