how is it possible that the Ukrainian air force is still flying?

Pilots are planning a flight pattern with their aircraft models during a training session at a military air base in the village of Vasylkiv, about 30 km from Kiev, on 3 August 2016.Statue Roman Pilipey / EPA

To the surprise of many, the Russians have ignored one of the most important rules of war: As an attacking party, make sure you are master of the air. As soon as that air superiority is achieved in the first days, the ground war can start undisturbed and the own army can be protected and supported from the air.

But none of that in Ukraine. Scattered throughout the country, Ukrainian fighter pilots stand every day waiting in the cockpit of their MiG-29 or Sukhoi-27 to take off at any time. Usually in the evening or at night, because then the pilots are less afraid of being discovered or shot down. Many hangars where Ukrainians store their warplanes are still intact. As well as the airports’ runways.

Hidden from the outside world, an odd battle against a much stronger opponent has been going on for four weeks now. Including air battles, with sometimes success. Ukraine claims to have shot down a total of about 100 Russian planes, an unusually large number that have not been confirmed by independent sources.