Under a shattered crescent hangar at Ukraine’s Gostomel Airport, the world’s largest plane lies buckled and broken, an immovable monument to the battle Russia waged to take this foothold towards the capital, Kyiv.
The Antonov An-225 Mriya – a cargo-lift plane with an 88-metre (290-feet) wingspan that is the largest of any aircraft in operational service – has been mauled by blasts.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“Mriya” – meaning “dream” in Ukrainian – was once printed on the nose. The name is now lost in a mass of scorched metal scraps and abandoned ammunition.
The plane was once a source of national pride but it was sacrificed in the fight to keep Russian troops outside the city gates.
“We are talking with a destroyed ‘Dream’ as a backdrop,” said interior minister Denys Monastyrsky, standing before the crippled giant striped with the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag.
“It’s emotionally difficult because I was here with my team two days before the war started,” he said.
“It was intact then.”
On the doorstep of Kyiv, Gostomel Airport was where Russia hoped to stage a decisive victory over Ukraine.
One day after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24, the Kremlin claimed to have seized the hub, allowing them to airlift armaments to the cusp of the capital.
However, Ukrainian forces fiercely contested the area. It was in Gostomel and the surrounding Kyiv suburbs where Russia’s advance from the north faltered, then failed.
“The initial idea was that cargo planes with paratroopers and vehicles would land here and it should’ve been an entrance point to Kyiv,” said Monastyrsky.
He estimates that “thousands” of paratroopers were deployed to Gostomel in wave after wave, commanded to bring the landing strip under Russian control.
“They didn’t manage to accomplish this task,” he said, touring the complex in pixelated camouflage uniform.
“We are confident that it won’t be possible to achieve now too.”
Last week, Putin cancelled his Kyiv offensive, pulling troops back into Belarus. It is anticipated they are regrouping for a fresh assault on Ukraine’s eastern flank.
It has been reported the “Dream” was destroyed on the fourth day of combat.
All around the airport is evidence of the deadly contest which took place over the last month.
There are tatters of drab clothing, dislocated tank tracks and other unrecognisable vehicle parts.
At least one undetonated grenade is visible, concealed among the desiccated remnants of military hardware which jangles underfoot.
Daggered into the tarmac of one road approaching from the south is the body of an unexploded missile.
Other unspent rounds of heavy ammunition the size of fireplace logs are piled in one spot next to a crumpled road sign reading: “Danger”.
Two soldiers pick across the debris towards the open taxiway.
They carry rifles slung across their backs and brooms in their hands – a comic image and an optimistic gesture among all this debris of chaos.