Kiev strikes defiant tone

posted on 5th June 2023
Kiev strikes defiant tone

When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Kiev Boryspil International Airport shut down. Oleksiy Dubrevskyy, the airport’s Chief Executive, spoke in Lodz

“Our strong and main message to all of you is that Ukraine is open to you; we will win, we are not broken,” said a defiant Oleksiy Dubrevskyy, speaking to delegates in Lodz with his presentation titled ‘Status and Opportunities’.
Describing the airport’s actions in the run-up to the invasion, on the day, in the weeks afterwards, and over the past year and more since February 2022, Dubrevskyy struck a resolute and positive tone and was clad in a green shirt like that worn by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Dubrevskyy was in Lodz to explain that although Boryspil is closed and Ukraine is on its war footing, the airport is undamaged and being kept ready to resume operations as soon as possible when the fighting is over.
“We believe there will be strong demand and a lot of market opportunities in the post-war period,” said Dubrevskyy. “There will be pent- up demand, refugee immigration, the construction of infrastructure and international aid, the Ukrainian–European Open Skies agreement, and incoming tourism.”
Prior to Russia’s invasion Boryspil was enjoying a swift post-Covid return to growth, above the European airport average, said Dubrevskyy. In 2021, Boryspil handled 9.5 million passengers, reaching 62% of its 2019 traffic level, which represented 60% of the country’s total traffic. In 2021, Lviv Airport saw 1.8 million passengers, Zhuliany had 1.4 million, and Odesa Airport had 1.3 million.
Boryspil was forecasting that it would make a full recovery in 2022 to 12-13 million passengers. In 2021 it was served by 36 airlines, including nine new ones, and had 117 scheduled and charter destinations, he explained.
Ukraine’s main gateway has seen changes in its market structure, as home carrier Ukraine International lost market share, said Dubrevskyy. International transfer traffic fell from 28% in 2017 to just 4% in 2021, while low-cost carrier market share rose from a mere 3% in 2017 to 41% by 2021. Cargo traffic was strong.

The invasion
This all changed abruptly on 24 February 2024. At 0400 that morning, as the invasion began, Dubrevskyy’s team went into crisis management mode, evacuating the 3,000 passengers in Boryspil’s terminal and the 1,200 employees working at the airport.
“Our immediate focus was on saving lives,” said Dubrevskyy, an aim in which the team was 100% successful. Illustrating how profoundly life has changed for the country, he explained that 8.2 million Ukrainians remain in Europe seeking temporary protection, with 1.6 million in neighbouring Poland alone, and another 7 million displaced within Ukraine.
“In Ukraine we don’t say ‘work-life’ balance, we say ‘war-life’ balance,” said Dubrevskyy.
Of the 28 airports in Ukraine, there are six that make up 98% of its main operations. Some were severely and partially damaged, especially in the eastern battle zones;, however, the main airports of Boryspil and Lviv are in “good shape”, said Dubrevskyy.
At Boryspil, over 20 aircraft were moved to remote positions, a number which that includes two Wizz Air Airbus A320s, and both runways were blocked, he said. After the emergency defence actions and administrative actions to protect the airport, Boryspil’s team has moved into a “new normal” of ensuring the airport is maintained and ready to reactivate.

Recovery plan
Dubrevskyy’s team is also looking at what comes next and preparing a recovery plan. The estimate, based on historic data indicating the speed at which markets rebound following a crisis, is that it would take up to three years for traffic to recover to previous levels.
As a critical national asset, Boryspil will be vital to Ukraine’s post-war recovery. In fact, Dubrevskyy’s belief is that its market share of the country’s traffic will rise as it acts as the main gateway supporting the return of refugees and enabling access to Ukraine. There The airport will also be the support of economic recovery and provideing cargo capacity for rebuilding projects.
The necessity for a fast restart is why Boryspil is being kept as near as possible to operational readiness. “That is why all our staff are involved to maintain and keep our infrastructure well groomed, clean and operational,” said Dubrevskyy.
The airport has retained its entire complement of 3,615 staff, who are all being paid two-thirds of their salary, with 600 at a time working at the airport on a monthly rotational basis, explained Dubrevskyy.
The aim is to enable Boryspil to be operational within a week of the war ending. Many carriers have said they will restart services to Ukraine immediately, with airBaltic Chief Executive Martin Gauss making this statement during Routes Europe.
Dubrevskyy’s attendance in Lodz was aimed at demonstrating the depth of Boryspil’s resolve to bounce back as soon as it can. “We wanted to send the very strong signal to our partners, to our airlines that we are ready to reopen as soon as possible” he said. It was a great benefit to move from online to face-to-face discussions with airlines and business partners, he noted.
Dubrevskyy praised the unwavering support Ukraine has had from across the aviation world, including special words of thanks to Polish aviation colleagues, ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec and IATA.
At the start of his talk, Dubrevskyy said: “The heart of Ukrainian aviation is beating.” The aviation community in Lodz was moved by his presence and his presentation, and glad to hear it first-hand.