Separatists In Ukraine Are Raiding Museums To Build An Air Force

Jan 19, 2015 at 9:27 AM ET

A self-proclaimed state in Eastern Ukraine claims to be renovating and restoring old fighter jets and military helicopters captured and found across the region. According to Russian Spring, the news website of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) armed forces, the LNR’s aircraft “arsenal” includes a 1970s-designed Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet (under renovation) and assorted helicopters taken from various museums. They also claim to have a few L-29 Delfin training jets, designed in the 1960s but still in use in a handful of nations, and sometimes retrofitted for use as bombers. On Jan. 15, LNR militia leaders claimed the aircraft will be used to protect the people of the self-proclaimed republic. The report also mentioned that the militia already has pilots with an extensive experience, who served in the Soviet air force.

Whether or not the so-called air force will get off the ground remains to be seen. Two days after the initial report was published on “Russian Spring,” unverified videos of the LNR’s first “operational” jet– an L-29–popped up on pro-LNR social network groups. In the video, the jet is wheeled out of the aviation museum to the south-east of Luhansk. The pilot introduces himself as a volunteer from Georgia, who decided to join the separatists militia to fight fascism. When asked if his plane could reach the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, he laughingly answered: “of course, it can.” The renovated jet taxis through the carcasses of aged military aircraft at the museum and trundles down a runway under its own power, but doesn’t take off. For now, Luhansk’s air force is propaganda material at best.

“Support from the air: the LNR air force passed its first test.”