Air-to-air, air defence missile and radio-radar units secure inviolability of about 7 thousand km of air frontiers of Ukraine and control air traffic with nine countries. 3 200 militaries and 400 units of machinery go on combat duty every day.
Their job is not only to guard the sky but also to prevent entries into secret zones. "While you are taking pictures here, our guys have already made an emergency response - the radar registered a helicopter in the prohibited zone," 'Center' deputy commander-in-chief and our guide colonel Oleksandr Pinkovskiy surprised us from the very beginning.
"The objects under our surveillance are Kyiv, Lviv, nuclear power plants of Rivne, Khmelnits and Chernobyl, South-Ukrainian NPP and chemical industry objects. Our department was formed on July 16, 1940 and carried out operations and missions during the war. In time of peace our main task is to protect important state objects," the colonel told us and added that this year the pilots patrol the skies almost every day.
Pilot of MIG-29 Oleksandr Blyskun confirmed that this year the working schedule is full. "This year we have scheduled flights almost every day. One day we prepare, two day we fly, then again - one day of preparations and two days of flights. Every time before the flight, we have to pass a media examination. Then we are handed our weapons and sent to the combat duty. Every flight is a difficulty," he says.
"When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, but then I decided it was too high and became a pilot," he added. Oleksandr Blyskun lives with his family - a wife and 2-month daughter - in a dormitory and says he is satisfied with his job and salary. As ForUm learned from the Defense Ministry department, average salary of Air Forces pilots is about 6 400 hryvnias.
Getting ready for a flight, every pilot puts on a helmet, oxygen mask and special suit. Every suit is made for every pilot individually to be tight, as it has installed oxygen regulation system to prevent pressure imbalance during emergency catapulting . The pilots are equipped with real suits even during training courses. In the 'Center' there is a special simulating cabin to train the pilots, equipped like the real one.
Skies are more than just a profession - it is pilot's life, chief of the air-to-air department of the 'Center' Oleh Zakharchuk believes. He was one of four pilots, who demonstrated the "link chain" maneuver for the guests. ForUm decided to learn firsthand about the emotions as soon as the aircraft touched the ground.
"The most important thing for a pilot is his direct duty - flights. When pilots perform other duties, not connected with flights, they work automatically, but when they go in the skies, every pilot brings his soul. There were difficult times for Air Forces in 1990ies, when there were half a year periods we did not fly. Now we have flights every second day and you can see the pilots are happy again," he said.
Watching these metal monsters flying and floating on air, one can forget about potential danger or menaces these people face every day. However, today Ukraine's sky is peaceful and our Air Forces pilots promise to keep it that way.
Tetyana Hryhorieva, photos by Viktor Kovalchuk
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