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Explained: World’s largest plane destroyed in Russia-Ukraine war — here’s what happened

Amid Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, the world’s largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov AN-225 or ‘Mriya’, was destroyed by Russian troops during an attack on an airport near Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities announced Monday.

According to Ukrainian officials, the plane was extensively damaged after Russian troops entered a Ukrainian air base in Hostomel, where the aircraft was parked. While they have not confirmed the extent of damage, Ukraine has said that it will be rebuilding the legendary plane.

“This was the world’s largest aircraft, AN-225 ‘Mriya’ (‘Dream’ in Ukrainian). Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya’. But they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state. We shall prevail,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

With a wingspan of over 290-feet, the unique Antonov AN-225 was designed in what was then the Ukrainian USSR during the 1980s amid a tense race to space between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The plane, nicknamed ‘Mriya’ or ‘dream’ in Ukrainian, is very popular in aviation circles, and is known to attract huge crowds of fans at air shows around the world.

It was initially designed as part of the Soviet aeronautical program to carry the Buran, which was the Soviet version of the US’ Space Shuttle. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when the Buran program was cancelled, the aircraft was instead used to transport massive cargo loads.

Only one AN-225 was ever built by the Kyiv-based Antonov Company, the defence manufacturers who originally designed the plane. It is essentially a large version of another design by the Antonoc company — the four-engine An-124 ‘Condor’, which is used by the Russian Air Force.

The aircraft first took flight in 1988 and has been in use ever since. In the recent past, it has been used for delivering relief supplies during calamities in neighbouring nations. During the initial days of the Covid pandemic, it was used to supply medical supplies in affected nations.

What happened to the plane?

Since launching its attack four days ago, Russia has been targeting airfields and military bases. On Friday, Russia claimed it had captured the Hostomel airfield, where the AN-225 was under repair.

“Russia has hit the Mriya as a symbol of Ukraine’s aviation capabilities,” Ukraine’s state-run defence manufacturer Ukroboronprom, which manages the Antonov Company, announced on Sunday.

According to a CNN report, satellite images of the air field show significant damage to the hangar in which the plane is located. NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System reported a fire at the airport at around 11:13 am on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Antonov Company, in a statement, said that it still “ cannot report on the technical condition of the aircraft.”

What’s next for the Antonov AN-225?

Ukroboronprom announced that the plane will be restored at Russia’s expense at an estimated cost of $3 billion. “The restoration is estimated to take over $3 billion and over five years,” the company said.

“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,” it added.

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