Hostomel, Ucrania (CNN) — The fuselage of this plane is a huge, twisted, charred hole. Its gigantic wings are collapsed on the ground, while its engines have been burned and destroyed.
You can still see the huge train of tires on which the plane sits, as well as the tattered nose cone, proudly sporting the blue and yellow stripes of the Ukrainian flag and the “225” of its official designation. .
But, it is clear that the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Antonov AN-225, will never fly again.
CNN journalists were able to see the full extent of the damage to the aircraft, called “Mriya” or “dream” in Ukrainian, after Russian troops withdrew from Hostomel airfield outside Kyiv last week. Precisely, one of the first strategic objectives in the invasion of Ukraine.
The plane lies crumpled and broken under the shattered arch of an aircraft hangar, where it was awaiting maintenance when the invasion occurred.
All around you are the wreckage of war: the airfield is littered with destroyed Russian equipment, including trucks, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and spent ammunition.
The destruction of the AN-225 was a symbolic loss in the first moments of the war. The plane, which was originally built to support the Soviet space shuttle program of the 1980s, had been a symbol of pride for Ukraine.
It also shocked the aviation sector. The aircraft was recognized as a marvel of modern aerial engineering, regularly drawing crowds both at air shows, where it was the main attraction, and during its daily cargo missions around the world.
The symbol of this aircraft for Ukraine
Immediately after the reports of its destruction, the Ukrainian authorities undertook to rebuild the plane. And they said Russia would pay the $3 billion reconstruction cost.
“Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya’. But they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state. We will prevail!” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter at the time.
Russian troops began digging in at Hostomel shortly after taking control of the airfield in late February. After weeks of intense fighting, satellite images revealed on Thursday that Russian forces had suddenly disappeared.
Earlier satellite images showed that, around military vehicles and artillery positions, the Russians had built protective earthen berms. Now only the berms remain.
Ukrainian forces have since taken control of the facility, claiming it to be a significant victory over the Russians. Over the weekend, CNN journalists toured the airfield with the Ukrainian National Police.
It is unclear what caused the plane’s destruction, whether it was deliberate sabotage or collateral damage from the military’s offensive to seize control of the airfield.
But despite the dilapidated state of the AN-255, many soldiers were taking pictures of the plane. Mriya’s symbolic status among Ukrainians has clearly not diminished.
Barry Neild and Paul P. Murphy, both of CNN, contributed to this story.