5th Air Assault Company, 2nd Air Assault Battalion,
31st Air Assault Brigade
This uniform was captured by a member of the Ukrainian military who fought in the battles north of Kyiv in the early days of the war, stating it came from an ambush near Hostomel. After heavy research into the markings, provenance from the capturer, and Russian unit organization, it is most likely that this jacket originated with the 5th Air Assault Company, 2nd Air Assault Battalion, 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade and was most likely captured after an ambush on 3 March 2022 that decimated a company or two of their troops in a suburb outside of Hostomel.
The 31st Brigade was one of the first units to deploy in Ukraine, landing paratroopers on the airstrip of Antonov Airport in the early hours of 24 February. Over the next week, the troopers took heavy casualties holding the area as Russian forces advanced from Belarus racing towards the airport and the capital. Current information points to the mechanized units of the 31st coming from the border to rejoin their infantry, arriving at the airport sometime around 25-26 February. The fighting raged in the airport’s immediate vicinity for over a week as the 31st took continued casualties, including the loss of several BMD-4Ms to Ukrainian fire.
On 3 March the unit began sending companies to push into the nearby town of Hostomel and its various suburbs. Ukrainian units in the days before worked to heavily reinforce the area, setting up ambushes and traps to slow and devastated any Russian forces trying to advance out of the airport. For a small town, it was the scene of insanely heavy fighting during these first few days of the war.
Although exact unit markings were taken off the vehicles, on 3 March a company of the 31st was sent down the Buchans’ke Highway to turn onto Sviato-Pokrovoska Street, attempting to flank Ukrainian forces in Bucha and drive deeper into the town. Rather than an easy drive, however, the movement turned into a brutal and bloody ambush as Ukrainian national defense forces caught the column by surprise, knocking out at least eight vehicles including at least six BMD infantry fighting vehicles. While little is known about the fight at that moment, the column took extreme casualties numbering in the dozens and lost roughly half of its vehicles. It was a devastating attack that left the streets around the ambush site strewn with bodies, burning vehicles, and abandoned equipment everywhere. It was the second largest instance of simultaneous destruction in the fighting around Hostomel.
The Ukrainian veteran who kept it as a personal souvenir described it was found where the 5th Air Assault Company was “completely destroyed,” in the vicinity of Hostomel, finding it amongst the “the debris and bodies” left in the street when they withdrew. Based on the information from the veteran combined with research on the markings, unit organization, timing, and insignia on the jacket, it is most likely that this tanker jacket came from that ambush. The air assault brigades uniquely number their companies in order numerically and photographs depict tankers of the 31st at this ambush wearing the white arm tape compared to the silver or gray of other Airborne troops. While I may never know with absolute certainty, it most likely is a very early trophy from the first days of the fighting representing the valor of the Ukrainian troops and utter failure of Russia’s elite forces to secure their primary objectives. It still retains a notable smell of oil and gas even a year out.