The shots of the destroyed giant bird at Hostomel Airport 20 kilometers from Kyiv were among the formative images from the early days of the Russian war of aggression. Not only aircraft fans all over the world mourned the burnt-out Antonov AN-225 in its hangar, which the world only calls by its nickname: Mriya, Russian for “dream”.
The largest plane in the world seems to have to stay on the ground forever. But the owners of Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines don’t seem discouraged by the destruction of their planes and company buildings. The air freight specialist is apparently planning to temporarily rebuild its bombed-out headquarters – at Leipzig-Halle Airport.
A total of four Antonov AN-124 transport aircraft are now stationed at two opposite ends of Leipzig/Halle Airport. The large-capacity freighters are something like the Mriya’s little sisters, although “small” is relative here. These Antonovs are also giants of the air with a wingspan of 73 meters, an unladen weight of 173 tons and a payload of 173,000 kilograms.
Three of the Leipzig Antonovs are located in the northern part of the airport and have not been moved since the end of February. They belong to the Russian airline Volga-Dnepr and were in Leipzig before the start of the war for maintenance work, where a maintenance and repair service provider operates a base for the Russians. Since the attack on Ukraine and the associated sanctions, the Russian Antonovs have been chained.
The situation is completely different in the southern part of the airport, where the Ukrainian Antonov Airlines has also had a base for six years. There is a lot of activity here. Again and again Antonov freighters roll onto the runway or hover from somewhere.
All those involved remain silent about where and with what load the machines fly. The freighters are normally deployed for twelve NATO countries, including Germany.
However, the airline is currently flying with priority for the Ukrainian government, with relief supplies or other cargo on board that has not been publicly specified. “In the last few days, up to three of these cargo planes have been at the airport,” says a spokesman for Mitteldeutsche Flughafen AG when asked by WELT.
Information that Antonov is in the process of building a temporary company headquarters in Leipzig is not to be commented on. “You will understand that we cannot speak for our customers.”
Antonov Airlines itself has not responded to inquiries for weeks. Contacts via intermediaries are also blocked with the understandable hint that one is at war. The company even had its planes removed by aircraft trackers like Flightradar24. Only occasionally do fragmentary flight movements of the giant aviators, which are otherwise followed so closely by their fans, appear there.
A cargo plane in the skies over Yorkshire over the Easter weekend scared people after they recognized the type of Russian plane and some feared an invasion. In fact, it was a Ukrainian Antonov 124 from Leipzig/Halle. The company itself is avoiding any publicity until “Russia is defeated,” according to a spokesman on social media.
Antonov’s Leipzig plans unintentionally became public when an airline representative reported on the destruction of the Antonov base near Kyiv at a logistics conference in Vienna. There had been fierce fighting around Hostomel Airport in the early days of the war. The cargo airport is said to have played an important role in the invasion plans as a logistics hub for Russian supplies.
When the Russian troops left, they left a trail of devastation in their wake. In addition to the Mriya, two AN-74 and AN-26-100 Antonov freighters were destroyed, and two others were badly damaged. The airport itself and the buildings of the Antonov headquarters were so badly damaged that regular operations will not be possible here for a long time.
But apparently Antonov’s will to continue seems unbroken. With the remaining five operational AN-124 aircraft, the intention is now apparently to continue from Leipzig.
The airline spokesman is said to have reported in Vienna that the entire base would be moved to Germany, with all spare parts, spare engines and special equipment. According to a report by Heavy Lift, technicians, flight personnel and key employees from the administration should also be
The legendary Mriya, on the other hand, will not touch down in Leipzig any time soon, although speculation has repeatedly been raised about a possible reconstruction of what is perhaps the most famous cargo plane in the world.
These are fueled by Antonov himself. On its Facebook page, the company describes the destruction of the plane by the Russians as a “devastating blow not only for the Antonov company, but for the entire world community”.
A reconstruction of the “dream”, which would take place under the management of the state-owned industrial group Ukroboronprom, appears more like a nightmare from an economic point of view. According to initial estimates, the project would take three to five years and cost around three billion dollars.
A second, never completed AN-225 could function as a spare parts store. But newly emerged photos of the wreck, which appears to have melted down, raise doubts as to whether Mriya will really rise from her ashes.
There was even a global appeal for donations, which is said to have received donations of an unknown amount and other offers of help from all over the world. At the same time, the project has also been criticized. The use of donations does not seem transparent. And the restoration of a more than 30-year-old plane wreck is apparently not seen by everyone as a top-priority task in a country devastated by war, despite its great symbolic value.
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