Hostomel, Ukraine (CNN) Its fuselage is a huge, twisted, charred hole. Its gigantic wings are fallen to the ground, one of its engines burned and destroyed.
The huge train of tires on which the plane sits is still visible, as is the tattered nose cone, proudly sporting the blue and yellow Ukrainian stripes and the “225” of its official designation.
But it is clear that the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Antonov AN-225, will never fly again.
CNN journalists saw the full extent of the damage to the aircraft, called “Mriya” or “dream” in Ukrainian, after Russian troops withdrew last week from Hostomel airfield outside kyiv, which was one of the first strategic objectives of the invasion of Ukraine.
The jet plane lies crumpled and broken under the shattered arch of an aircraft hangar, where it had been awaiting maintenance at the time of the invasion.
All around you are the detritus of war: the airfield is littered with destroyed Russian equipment, including trucks, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and spent ammunition.
The destruction of the AN-225 was a symbolic loss in the first moments of the conflict. The aircraft, originally built to support the Soviet space shuttle program of the 1980s, had been a symbol of pride for Ukraine.
It also sent shock waves through the aviation world. The plane had been celebrated as a marvel of modern aviation engineering, regularly drawing crowds both at air shows where it was the main attraction and during its daily cargo missions around the world.
The Antonov An-225 Mriya aircraft in service in 2020.
Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images
Immediately after reports of its disappearance, Ukrainian authorities promised to rebuild the plane, saying Russia would pay the $3 billion reconstruction cost.
“Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya’. But they can never destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state. We will prevail!” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter at the time.
Russian troops began digging in at Hostomel shortly after seizing control of the airfield in late February. After weeks of heavy fighting, satellite images revealed last Thursday that Russian forces had suddenly disappeared.
Earlier satellite images showed that around military vehicles and artillery positions, the Russians had built protective earthen berms. Now only the berms remain.
Since then, Ukrainian forces have taken control of the facility and consider it a significant victory over the Russians. Over the weekend, CNN journalists toured the airfield with the National Police of Ukraine.
It was unclear what caused the plane’s destruction, whether it was deliberate sabotage or collateral damage from the military’s push to seize control of the airfield.
But despite the dilapidated state of the AN-255, many soldiers were taking pictures of the plane, Mriya’s symbolic status among Ukrainians has clearly not diminished.
CNN’s Barry Neild and Paul P. Murphy contributed to this story