The two Mi-8 helicopters tore across enemy territory early on the morning of March 21, startling the Russian soldiers below. Inside were Ukrainian special forces fighters carrying crates of Stinger and Javelin missiles, as well as a satellite internet system. They were flying barely 20 feet above ground into the hottest combat zone in the war.
Ukraine’s top generals had conceived the flights as a daring, possibly doomed, mission. A band of Ukrainian soldiers, running low on ammunition and largely without any communications, was holed up in a sprawling steel factory in the besieged city of Mariupol. The soldiers were surrounded by a massive Russian force and on the verge of annihilation.