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Fallen defenders of Donetsk Airport commemorated one year after tragedy

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Ukrainian soldiers greet as they meet at the Kyiv's House of Officers to commemorate the defenders of Donetsk Airport on Jan. 16. (Anastasia Vlasova)

More than 600 people have gathered to commemorate Ukraine's legendary defenders of Donetsk Airport on Jan. 16 in Kyiv's House of Officers.

The event was organized by Iryna Zubkova, the younger sister of Ivan Zubkov, who died on Jan. 20, defending the airport.

TV anchor Marichka Padalko hosted the ceremony. She started the night reciting the message intercepted by Ukrainian Army, where Russian-backed separatists discussed the airport defenders, calling them “cyborgs.”

It’s been almost a year since more than 50 Ukrainian soldiers were sent to the last rotation in defending the abandoned Donetsk Airport. In five days, 13 of them got out alive.

The building was ruined by two massive explosions and the rescue mission failed. The last explosion on Jan. 20 buried most of Ukraine’s remaining defenders under concrete debris. Some of the last airport defenders still have the official “missing” status.

It was for their courage and dedication that the enemy called the Airport Defenders “cyborgs.” However, there is more sorrow than glory in their story.

More than 140 cyborgs’ family members have come to the remembrance night to commemorate their brothers, sons, husbands and fathers. All of them have received posthumous Ukrainian church medals of their fallen relatives. The award ceremony was followed by a concert interrupted by the personal stories of each soldier who died in the airport.

Among the actors and musicians who performed during the night were Vova Geizer, the leader of Shablya band and the author of the official anthem of the anti-terrorist operation, Ada Rogovtseva, Oleh Skrypka with his sons and Oleksiy Mochanov, a former race driver, bard singer and an army volunteer.

Mochanov told a story of his visit to Donetsk Airport back in October 2014, when the fight wasn’t that intense and the airport building was still a fortification. He played two songs he played to the airport defenders, but said the failure of the Airport operation is not to be forgiven.

“I am not sure how the state will remember the cyborgs, because remembering them means remembering what has led to their death,” Mochanov said. “I keep repeating there should be one hanged official for every dead hero, because it is only someone’s incompetence, stupidity and narcissism that leads to the necessity to perform feats,” he said.

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