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Insult Evolves Into Homage As Donetsk Airport Defenders Dubbed 'Cyborgs'

  • Tom Balmforth

A meme making the rounds of social media has dubbed the Ukrainian soldiers defending Donetsk airport "cyborgs."

A meme making the rounds of social media has dubbed the Ukrainian soldiers defending Donetsk airport "cyborgs."

MOSCOW -- The soldiers defending the Donetsk airport have become superheros in the eyes of many Ukrainians.

After repelling attacks from pro-Moscow separatists for four months, they have been dubbed "cyborgs" in the press, in social media, and even by the president himself.

Fighting has raged in eastern Ukraine despite a fragile cease-fire announced on September 5, and much of it is taking place around the strategically important Donetsk airport, 10 kilometers outside the regional capital.

The cyborg moniker was reportedly first coined by an exacerbated Russian-backed separatist in late September.

"I don’t know who’s in there, but these aren’t humans. They’re cyborgs!" the rebel is supposed to have said after a failed assault on the airport.

Since then, the term has been popularized on Ukrainian blogs and social networks.

And Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko himself used it during a speech on October 12.

"Our brave soldiers are heroically holding the line in Donetsk airport, which has already become a symbol of courage and heroism," he said. "The enemies of these heroes call them Ukrainian cyborgs."

A cyborg meme has also taken off on Twitter.

In one tweet, Sergei Naumovich compared them to the main character in the 1987 science-fiction film "RoboCop."

The Euromaidan Twitter feed tweeted a photograph of a soldier at the airport and dubbed it a "Cyborg Selfie."

And Natalya Halas tweeted photographs of a funeral in the city of Berdychiv for a Ukrainian soldier and reminded everybody that, superhero memes aside, they're only human: "For some, they’re cyborgs. For others, they are sons, husbands, or fathers."

And the ultranationalist group Right Sector, which is reportedly helping the Ukrainian military defend the airport, has also embraced the moniker.

"We ourselves have started to believe we’re cyborgs," one unidentified member of the group told Ukrainian media.

A slickly produced Ukrainian website named after the “cyborgs” chronicles the devastation of the airport, which was first heavily shelled in May.

Ukrainian media has compared the defense of the airport to the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II. Irek Murtazin, a Russian blogger, also likened it to Brest Fortress in Belarus, the site of fierce Soviet resistance to Nazi Germany.

First built in 1933, the airport was reconstructed for the 2012 UEFA European soccer championship, hosted jointly by Ukraine and Poland.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at