Four Slovakian MiG-29s Flown Directly To Ukraine To Join Its Air Force

In a move bound to raise hackles in Moscow, four Ukrainian pilots climbed into MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets in Slovakia and flew them home to join their own air force, the Slovakian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced Thursday.

The Fulcrums were the first tranche from a total of 13 promised last week by Slovakia to Ukraine, which has had dire need of combat aircraft since the full-scale Russian invasion began.

In the official video above, the pilots are shown walking to the jets and taking off. The quartet of Fulcrums still wear their Slovakian Air Force color schemes — at least one of them in the digital style — but have had all of their national insignia removed.

That the Ukrainians flew the jets home rather than disassembling them and transporting them by truck or rail flies in the face of ominous Russian warnings against nations providing additional fighters to Ukraine, and especially flying them directly into the country.

“The first four MiG-29 fighter jets have been safely handed over to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” the Slovakian MoD announced Thursday. “The transfer was carried out by Ukrainian pilots, with the help of the Slovak Air Force, Ukrainian personnel, and other components that ensured the safety of the transfer and the necessary documentation.”

A Ukrainian pilot prepares to fly a Slovakian-donated MiG-29 Fulcrum back home. (Slovakian Defense Ministry screen cap)

“Thank you to all involved for a fantastic professional job,” Minister of Defense Jaroslav Naď said in a statement. “Slovakia is on the right side, and with this gesture, we as a country have written ourselves in capital letters in modern world history, which speak of timely help, sincere solidarity, and the greatness of the nation.” 

He reiterated that “we are providing Ukraine with unnecessary technology,” reflecting the fact that, from next year, Slovakia is due to receive 14 new F-16 Block 70 jets to replace its retired Fulcrums.

The rest of the planes will be handed over to Ukraine in the coming weeks, the Slovakian MoD said, “but for operational reasons, the department will not provide any further details. Their transfer will be confirmed immediately after their safe handover to the Ukrainian side, as in this case.”

Not all of the 13 Slovakian MiG-29s will be airworthy. Reportedly, deliveries will comprise 10 upgraded single-seat MiG-29AS and two-seat MiG-29UBS jets that will enter operational service, plus three non-upgraded examples that will be used as a source of spare parts.

Slovakia last week joined Poland in making an official decision to provide Ukraine with Soviet-era Fulcrums, the two NATO members becoming the first countries to commit to delivering tactical jets to Kyiv since Russia launched its full-scale invasion. Slovakia ceased flying its MiG-29s last summer and the possibility of transferring these jets to Ukraine had been raised previously, but the earlier plan had collapsed amid U.S. pressure.

“…the government decided and unanimously approved an international agreement [on the donation of MiG-29s],” Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger said at the time. “The process of handing over these fighter jets is closely coordinated with the Polish side, with Ukraine and, of course, with other allies,” he added.

The arrival of the jets won’t change Ukraine’s constant request for more modern, Western fighters. But the MiG-29 is the backbone of Ukraine’s fleet and the influx is crucial as these can be used very quickly and supported in Ukraine seamlessly.

Ukraine’s Air Force has lost at least 61 aircraft, including 18 Fulcrums since the all-out war began, according to the Oryxspioenkop OSINT group. The actual figure is likely higher since the group only counts visually confirmed aircraft losses.

You can read more about the changing role of the Fulcrum in the war in our exclusive interview with a Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot, who uses the call sign “Juice,” here.

“In time for spring, birds traditionally arrive in Ukraine,” Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov tweeted Thursday in appreciation. “MiG-29 jets from Slovakia will have a lot of work defending Europe. Thank you to @eduardheger @JaroNad and the Slovakian people. Our Air Force is ready to accept more jets and protect our skies!”

Staff writer Thomas Newdick contributed to this report.

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