(Hostomel, Ukraine) The gigantic twin tail fins, which once stretched as high as a six-story building, are gone.

The same goes for the empennage, flaps, hydraulic systems, fuel pumps and three of the six engines of the plane, which was destroyed in the fighting in the early days of the war.

Piece by piece, the workers are dismantling the wreckage of the gigantic Mriya cargo plane, the heaviest plane ever flown, in order to build a new one with the recovered parts. Restoration of the aircraft, whose name in Ukrainian means “The Dream”, has begun.

With the war still raging, the immense task of rebuilding Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands of homes, hospitals, schools and bridges have been destroyed, still seems a distant prospect. Faced with these colossal challenges, work on the new aircraft is not a top priority from a humanitarian point of view. But it is partly a source of inspiration, according to the leaders of the aeronautical company that owns it, Antonov.

“People should keep hope alive,” said Vladyslav Valsyk, deputy director and chief engineer of Antonov, a state-owned company. “They need to know that this plane is not abandoned. Yes, there is a lot of work to do, but we are working. »

But critics say spending money and energy on rebuilding the plane would be a misplaced priority.

Aviation analyst Valery Romanenko told Ukrainian media that Antonov should just “do something urgent for the armed forces” during the war, such as building drones. “There are no words to describe the project to build a new Mriya. »

President Volodymyr Zelensky announced last May that Ukraine would rebuild the Mriya, the only such device ever completed. Over the summer, British entrepreneur and aviation enthusiast Richard Branson visited the wreckage and said he was excited to help restore it when the time came.

Last week, the company announced the start of recovery operations and design work, but clarified that assembly of the new device would not occur until after the war.

Workers unbolt what they can of the soot-smeared wreckage, and engineers make plans to use those salvaged parts, along with spares, engines from a similar plane and an extra fuselage long shelved, to build a new aircraft, according to company executives. The project is expected to cost around $500 million, and financing has yet to be found.

But the company said the long delay in getting the plane back in the air means it can’t wait to start planning and collecting parts. Antonov said it is in talks with European, American and Asian airlines, as well as potential customers for future cargo flights.

It was designed to carry the Buran, the orbiter of the short-lived Soviet space shuttle program. Later, its bulbous, almost cartoonish body transported bulky industrial objects such as wind turbine blades or locomotives, and delighted crowds at air shows.

As the first steps to restore the plane are taken, the police are investigating the circumstances of its destruction.

The day before the Russian invasion, a crew had prepared the plane for safekeeping outside Ukraine, Maksym Sanotskyi, the company’s deputy director for transportation, said in an interview. Takeoff was scheduled for the following afternoon. But time ran out.

Russian troops crossed the border at dawn and Russian special forces stormed Hostomel airport, the Mriya’s base, using helicopters. During the ensuing fighting at the airport, just on the outskirts of Kyiv, the plane was sprayed with shrapnel and burst into flames.

Last week, alongside the company’s announcement of progress in restoring the aircraft, police announced the arrest of several former executives of the Antonov company, suspected of having obstructed the work of the military in the securing the airport of Hostomel in the days preceding the invasion.

In a statement, prosecutors said the company did not allow Ukraine’s national guard to build defensive positions at the airport, for reasons that remain unclear, which led to the destruction of the Mriya. Mr. Valsyk said he could not comment on the investigation.

The plane is obviously not high on Ukraine’s long list of reconstruction priorities after a year of Europe’s most destructive war since World War II. Virtually no town has been spared from missile or artillery strikes, and millions of Ukrainians have been displaced or live in towns without running water or electricity.

Antonov says the plane has commercial potential. When chartered by companies in the energy sector, for example, to transport huge pieces of equipment around the world, the hourly cost is around $32,000. The company also said the plane was priceless as a symbol of Ukraine.

But a former Antonov engineer, Anatoly Vovnyanko, told Ukrainian media he doesn’t believe the company can ever recoup its expenses through commercial charters. “Nobody needs this Mriya,” Mr. Vovnyanko said. The money will never be recovered. »