Bloody Day In Ukraine Ends With Russian Advances, Setbacks

Credit: Nigel Howarth

A bloody day of fighting paused shortly after nightfall in Ukraine with Russian invaders advancing across the country, although more rapidly from the south than the east and north, according to Ukrainian officials.  

As darkness fell, Ukraine’s 4th Rapid Response Brigade reclaimed Antonov International Airport, only 25 km west of the center of Kyiv, following a counterattack that dislodged Russian special forces who arrived by air assault aboard Mil Mi-8 helicopters, Fedor Venislavskyi, a member of parliament and chairman of the state security and defense subcommittee, told the Ukrainian Interfax news agency.  

If true, Ukrainian armed forces may have denied a key staging base for follow-on arrivals of Russian troops on the doorstep of defenders’ capital city. 

But the overall situation across Ukraine remains dire. The status of Ukraine’s air force and air defense systems remain unknown. The air assault that brought Russian special forces to the Antonov flight test center lost only three of 31 aircraft in the assault formation, Ukrainian officials said.  

 Meanwhile, Russia media, citing the Ministry of Defense in Moscow, published unconfirmed claims that the Russian air force had shot down two Su-27s, two Su-24s, one helicopter and four TB-2 Bayraktar unmanned aircraft systems. Photos showed the wreckage of another Ukrainian An-26 down on Feb. 24, but it was not clear if it was shot down or crashed.  

 By all accounts in Kyiv and Moscow news reports, Russian ground forces made the most significant gains in the southern district, with troops pushing up from Crimea beyond Kherzan to the northwest and reportedly Melitopol to the northeast.  

Progress was slower by Russian columns invading from the east and north. Citing the Russian Ministry of Defense, Interfax reported that Russian troops moved only 6-8 km westward from the border of the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. In the northeast, Ukrainian officials said they had stopped a Russian advance on Kharkiv.  

The first day of combat was intense in places, but appeared to stop short of displaying Russia’s full military might, according to U.S. Defense Department officials who spoke on background. As Russian troops consolidate gains and recover from setbacks, a new barrage of long-range missile strikes and ground assaults are expected on Feb. 25.  

Fifty-six Ukrainian civilians died in the fighting on Feb. 24, Ukrainian officials said. No official count was released of the military dead and wounded.  

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.