Russian Military Launches Humanitarian Air Bridge Sending Il-76 Airlifters To Help Italy Fight COVID-19

A Russian Aerospace Forces Il-76 heavy transport of the 224th Air Detachment of Military Transport Aviation involved in the relief mission to Italy. (Russian MoD).

Armada of Il-76 Heavy Transports Fly Critical Relief Supplies into Pratica di Mare.

Russian Aerospace Forces Il-76 transports loaded with medical supplies and medical specialists are flying to Pratica di Mare Airbase, near Rome, Italy, in the ongoing COVID-19 relief effort. Photos of the aircraft were published today on Russian media outlets, but have not yet been widely reported in western media.

The aircraft originated from Chkalovsky Military Airfield near Shchyolkovo, Moscow Oblast, approximately 31 kilometers (19 miles) northeast of Moscow. Photos distributed to media by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) showed six Ilyushin Il-76 heavy transport aircraft (NATO codename “Candid”) sitting in a parking area/taxiway, apparently before departure. Reports indicate that at least 9 Il-76s were readied for the mission and that the airlifters involved in the relief mission belong to Russia’s 224th Air Detachment of Military Transport Aviation operating the Il-76MD. The aircraft have a reported payload capability of 48,000 kg (105,822 lb.), or 50 tons of cargo that apparently includes medical support vehicles in addition to supplies and medical personnel.

Russian Aerospace Forces Il-76 heavy transports began a medical airlift of supplies and medical personnel to Italy today in support of the coronavirus relief mission. (Photo: Russian Aerospace Forces/Ministry of Defense)

According to reliable sources inside Russia to, the team of medical specialists dispatched to Rome from Moscow include Major General Sergey Kikot, a leading developer and specialist “in the application of the latest samples of special processing systems.” Maj. Gen. Kikot is credited with, “fulfilling the tasks of organizing work in the difficult epidemiological conditions of outbreaks of anthrax peptic ulcer”. Also on board the relief mission is Lieutenant Colonel Gennady Eremin, a leading scientist at the research center of medical sciences and an expert in organization of anti–epidemiological measures. Lt. Col Eremin has extensive experience in epidemiological treatment and eradication across Africa. The team also includes Lt. Col. Vyacheslav Kulish, a specialist in the development of vaccines for Ebola and bubonic plague. Lt. Col. Kulish participated in the development of vaccines for Ebola and bubonic plague. Another member of the relief mission is Lt. Col. Alexander Yumanov, and Associate Professor for the Military Medical Academy. Lt. Col. Yumanov has extensive experience with anti-epedimic support in natural disasters and emergencies, including deployment to India, the Republic of Guinea in Africa. Another military medical specialist deployed in the relief mission to Italy is Col. Aleksey Smirnov of the Russian Medical Service. Col. Smirnov is a leading epidemiologist and author of more than 70 scientific papers on epidemiology and the prevention of infectious diseases. Col. Smirnov was also instrumental in the development of an effective Ebola vaccine.

At the Chkalovsky airfield in the Moscow region, 9 Il-76 aircraft of the Russian military transport aviation are concentrated, which over the past night, along with trained crews, were quickly transferred from the Pskov, Ulyanovsk and Orenburg regions. (Photo: Russian Aerospace Forces/Ministry of Defense)

The Russian media outlet reported that, “The Il-76 aircraft of the military transport aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces, which today, March 22, left Chkalovsky airfield and headed for Italy. The aviation group was created by order of the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoigu.” The report went on to say, “About 100 specialists in the field of virology and epidemiology with the necessary machinery and equipment will be [have been] transferred to Italy.”

A vehicle prepares for boarding on an Il-76. (Image credit: Russian MoD).

As of 19.00GMT on Sunday, March 22, 2020, the online flight tracking websites showed at least two aircraft en route to the region. also showed the direct southern flight route of the first aircraft into Rome from the Moscow area.

One of the Il-76s heading to Italy. (Image credit:

The arrival of the Russian medical relief mission comes after China and the U.S. have sent supplies s part of an international relief effort.

Dealing with the U.S. military support, yesterday, an 86th Airlift Wing C-130J Super Hercules out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, transported an En-Route Patient Staging System (ERPSS) to Aviano AB, Italy, for delivery to the Italian Ministry of Defense according to an official USAFE release. This mobile, or fixed system, provides 10 patient holding/staging beds and can support a maximum throughput of 40 patients in a 24-hours period. “The ERPSS system comes with seven days of medical supplies, operates within two tents and can achieve initial operating capability within one hour of notification. This particular configuration includes a 15-day resupply pallet. USAFE prepositioned the equipment at Aviano as a prudent measure to potentially support higher COVID-19 risk areas.”


About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on,, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.