The world’s largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-225 Mriya, was destroyed in a Russian assault on an airfield near Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.
“We will rebuild the plane,” a statement from the official Twitter account for the government of Ukraine read. “We will fulfill our dream of a strong, free, and democratic Ukraine.”
The statement noted that Mriya had been “destroyed by Russian occupants.” It seemed to corroborate earlier reports that the aircraft had been burned, including by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and state arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom.
A satellite photo shared by Radio Svoboda, an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, also purported to show the hangar that the An-225 was stored in aflame.
Ukroboronprom confirmed in a statement that Mriya would be rebuilt, a process that it estimated would cost more than $3 billion and take over five years.
“Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which has caused intentional damage to Ukraine’s aviation and the air cargo sector,” the manufacturer said.
The plane had begun undergoing repairs at the Gostomel Airport on Feb. 24, Ukroboronprom said. Because one of its six behemoth engines had been temporarily decommissioned, it had been unable to relocate after Russian forces invaded.
The Antonov Company, which is managed by Ukroboronprom, did not confirm Mriya’s destruction. “Currently, until the AN-225 has been inspected by experts, we cannot report on the technical condition of the aircraft,” the company said, adding that it would share more information as it became available.
“Mriya,” which translates to “dream” or “inspiration,” was a monster jet more than 30 years old and beloved by aviation geeks around the world. Boasting a wingspan longer than the Wright brothers’ first flight and a nose-to-tail length of more than 270 feet, the plane had a maximum take-off weight of more than 640,000 kilograms, according to Antonov Airlines. It dated back to the Soviet era, having been conceived and built during the 1970s and ’80s to ferry around the regime’s Buran space shuttle.
The plane first took off on Dec. 21, 1988, becoming something of a celebrity in the aviation world. When the plane cruised into Perth, Australia, in May 2016, more than 35,000 aircraft enthusiasts gathered to watch its arrival, snarling traffic around the airport.
It entered commercial operations in 2001, with each hour of its operation reportedly running a cost of $30,000. During the coronavirus pandemic, the aircraft was used in state humanitarian operations to transport personal protective equipment around the world.
The aircraft’s service life was extended by Antonov Airlines, which announced several years ago that the plane was expected to remain in operation until at least 2033.
“It has 242 world records to its name,” the company crowed, “and is the inspiration for Antonov Airlines’ slogan: ‘No other name carries more weight.’”
Mriya’s lead engineer, Nikolay Kalashnikov, told the BBC in 2017 that it had been almost impossible to imagine that “such a big machine” was capable of flight when they were first designing it.
“The Mriya is not separable from Ukraine,” Kalashnikov said, “it’s like our child, and it’s something our children, and our grandchildren can always be proud of.”