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From Kabul to Melitopol: Ukraine's captured Il-76MD transport aircraft
On 30 Aug 2021 at 23:59 Kabul time, the last United States Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III departed Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, concluding 20 years of American military presence in Afghanistan. In the weeks prior, armed forces and their aircraft from around the world assembled in the Afghan Capital, evacuating their citizens and other people of interest alike. One of these aircraft was Ukraine Air Force Ilyushin Il-76MD reg. 76699 (MSN 00634 71131). Flying from one conflict to another, her participation in the evacuation of Afghanistan would be her last mission before ending up in Russian hands during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, half a year later.
76699’s final flights
On 18 Aug 2021, 76699 departed Kyiv Boryspil Airport in Ukraine for Afghanistan. On 19 Aug, 76699 was spotted on satellite imagery at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. 76699 can be seen in the far left of picture 1 of Amelia Smith’s tweet shown below, around 34.567990° 69.216469° on the map. A picture published by the Ukraine Ministry of Defense, again shown below, shows 76699 at the same location in Kabul, facing east.
After spending some time in Afghanistan, 76699 continued to Islamabad Airport in Pakistan on 21 Aug 2021, a Facebook post by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine confirms. From there, 76699 continued to Kyiv Boryspil Airport in Ukraine, landing in the morning of 22 Aug 2021.
Hours later, she would again depart Kyiv Boryspil Airport, returning to her home base Melitopol. This would end up being her last journey in Ukrainian service to date. This last journey is further visualized by several sources listed below.
76699 in Kabul, Afghanistan:
76699 in Islamabad, Pakistan, parked next to a Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130H:
76699 spotted around her return to Kyiv Boryspil Airport, 22 Aug 2021:
Flight tracks of 76699 returning to Ukraine from her Afghanistan mission:
The fall of Melitopol Air Base
On 24 Feb 2022, the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine. In an earlier blog post, I described how Ukraine Air Force Il-76MDs 76697 and 76322 were wrecked on the first day of the war, likely as the result of a Russian attack aimed at Melitopol Air Base.
On 25 Feb 2022, seven Ukrainian Il-76 transport aircraft based at Melitopol were evacuated from the country, before the air base ended up in Russian hands in early March 2022. More information about this topic can be found in my blog post below.
76699’s fate since Kabul
According to Airhistory.net, Ukraine Air Force Il-76MD 76699 was part of a life-time prolongation contract until 28 Aug 2021. Icarus Flights historic aircraft data reveals no flights since the aforementioned flights of 22 Aug 2021, confirming that 76699 did not fly since her last flight to home base Melitopol Air Base.
In early Aug 2022, an image of 76699 at Melitopol Air Base appeared on the internet, possibly taken from a Russian helicopter. 76699 appears to be unharmed, but a Russian slogan has been written across her wings. This writing says something like “Сила России в Каждом из нас”1. According to Google Translate, this would translate to something like “The strength of Russia is in each of us”. Both front doors as well as roof hatches have been opened, suggesting that Russian soldiers have gained access to the aircraft to have a look inside.
Comparing the recent picture to August 2021 pictures, at least the engine cowlings of engine 4 seem to have been replaced. This suggests that 76699 underwent maintenance before the Invasion. This may explain why the aircraft was not evacuated with the seven other Il-76s: because of the ongoing maintenance, she was likely not airworthy at the time.
From the comparison between this picture of 76699 and Google Earth imagery taken 14 Jul 2021, we can derive that 76699 was parked at 46.881512° 35.310562°, and the picture is taken facing west.
This means that wrecked Il-76s 76322 and 76697 were parked to her left and right, respectively. In fact, the tail of 76699 can be seen in the background of some pictures of the wrecked 76697.
A close examination of Sentinel-2 imagery of Melitopol Air Base shows that 76699 was not parked at this location on 19 Aug 2021. This matches the timeframe of the mission to Afghanistan described earlier in this article. An Il-76 can be seen on this location on earlier dates and on all cloud-free Sentinel-2 images taken after 19 Aug 2021.
Some final notes:
Comparing this image to pictures of all known Ukrainian Military Il-76s on Russianplanes.net, 76699 seems to be their only Il-76 with dark grey engines and a dark grey lower fuselage. It is therefore very likely that the aircraft seen in the picture is indeed 76699. This is further confirmed by the geolocation and the matching timelines both presented in this blog post, showing no aircraft during the Afghanistan mission.
Combining my previous work, the following overview of recently active Ukraine Air Force Il-76MDs can be created:
Il-76MD MSN: 00534 63913, registered UR-76661/76661 is stored at Dęblin, Poland
Il-76MD MSN: 00734 76296, registered UR-76732/76732 is stored at Dęblin, Poland
Il-76MD MSN: 00634 68029, registered UR-76683/76683 is stored at Dęblin, Poland
Il-76MD MSN: 00834 87627, registered UR-78772/78772 is stored at Dęblin, Poland
Il-76MD MSN: 00934 96907, registered UR-78820/78820 is stored at Dęblin, Poland
Il-76MD MSN: 00534 63885, registered UR-76655/76655 is stored at Dęblin, Poland
Il-76MD MSN: 10134 07215, registered UR-76413/76413 is stored at Dęblin, Poland
Il-76MD MSN: 00634 71131, registered UR-76699/76699 is captured at occupied Melitopol, Ukraine
Il-76MD MSN: 00634 70118, registered UR-76697/76697 is wrecked at occupied Melitopol, Ukraine
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The author of the article does not speak Russian.