Ukraine: For Sale or Hire, Military Aircraft and Pilots

Ukraine: For Sale or Hire, Military Aircraft and Pilots

February 25, 2011

Three stories involving the Ukrainian military have caught my attention recently.

Less than a dozen of the diplomatic dispatches leaked by Wikileaks have mentioned Ukraine, but on the whole they make disturbing reading. The one bemusing note reveals that Muammar Gaddafi’s chief nurse is a young Ukrainian woman, described as, “A voluptuous blonde.”

The more serious claims are that Ukraine has been shipping weapons to Sudan which is on the US list of state sponsors of terror. Apparently, US diplomats showed their Ukrainian counterparts a copy of a contract that indicated the weapons were destined for Sudan. The Ukrainians responded that the shipments were sent to Kenya, questioned the authenticity of the contract and the paucity of evidence. When asked by the Ukrainians if the Americans had any better evidence, the American diplomats showed detailed satellite images of T-72 tanks being unloaded in Kenya, being put onto trains and transported across the border into Sudan. According to the dispatch issued by Wikileaks, “This led to a commotion on the Ukrainian side.”

Secondly, the newswires are buzzing with reports that Ukrainian pilots are flying the MiG flight jets that bombed demonstrators in Libya, and they are also piloting the Antonov aircraft which ferry military supplies around the country. The reports are denied by Ukrainian diplomats, but Today newspaper ( claimed that the pilots – some of whom hold senior positions in the Libyan military – receive $2000-$8000 per month. Such claims are echoes of those heard before. In the 2008 spat between Russia and Georgia it was claimed that Ukrainian gunners shot down Russian aircraft on behalf of Georgia. And a decade ago, in 2001, it was claimed that Ukrainian helicopter gunship pilots attacked Albanian rebels for the Macedonian government.

Finally, what caught my eye is that a lucky few can buy their own ex-Ukrainian air force MiG aircraft and strafe their local community at will. Reading the “For Sale” ads, you might come across a MiG-29 described as “Low mileage, one careful pilot, some pock-marks on bodywork, priced to sell at $6 million, must be speed junky with head for heights.” The MiG-29 is not for the weak-hearted and can achieve speeds of twice the speed of sound and can climb at 45,000 feet per minute. Earlier in the year, John Sessions, a private US citizen did just that: he took delivery after paying cash for the aircraft, and beating several national governments to the deal.*

None of this really comes as a surprise when you’re aware of the absorbing history of Ukrainian involvement in aircraft innovation and the story of intrepid Ukrainian pilots.

Less than four years after the Wright brothers made the world’s first flight in 1903, Ukrainians were developing state of the art aircraft. They are credited with hundreds of innovations, including being fathers of the strategy of aerial combat, being the first to control aircraft spin, being instrumental in parachute design and starting airmail services. And, all importantly, for putting a toilet on board an aircraft as early as 1914. Remember, at that time, even cars were few and far between.

You probably know Ukraine as the home of Sikorsky helicopters – he built the world’s first all metal aircraft – or Antonov aircraft – they built the world’s largest aircraft – but there is much more to the story than that. For more information, you can read an excerpt from the chapter “Whirlybirds and Witches” at and, of course, you can get the full story in Among the Ukrainians.


Comments are closed.