Ukraine helicopter crash kills interior minister in Kyiv as fighting continues in east

Ukraine’s interior minister and a child were among at least 14 people killed Wednesday when a helicopter crashed into a kindergarten and set it on fire in a suburb of the capital Kyiv.

Separately, Ukraine said its forces again held back Russian attempts to advance on the frontline city of Bakhmut hundreds of kilometers away to the east, where both sides have suffered heavy losses for little gain in the trench warfare since November.

Ukrainian officials said it was too early to determine what caused the helicopter crash. None immediately spoke of any attack by Russia, which invaded Ukraine last February and has been pounding Ukrainian cities often far from the front lines with missiles almost daily since October.

Dozens of people were injured, including children, many with burns, after the French-made Super Puma helicopter plunged through fog in Brovary, on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv, and plunged into kindergartens.

Ukraine’s state emergency services said 14 people had died in total. Government agencies had previously released a higher death toll ranging as high as 18.

Among the dead was Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, who was on board the helicopter. He was the most senior Ukrainian official to die since the war began with a Russian invasion in February last year.

Neighbors described a frantic rescue.

“We saw wounded, we saw children. There was a lot of fog here, everything was scattered everywhere. We heard screams, we ran towards them,” Hlib, a 17-year-old local resident, told Reuters. “We took the children and carried them over the fence, away from the nursery, as it was on fire.”

The entire side of the nursery building was charred, with a gaping hole above the entrance, where the helicopter’s rotor blades rested. Nearby, debris was strewn across a muddy playground and the wreckage of the helicopter littered an apartment block.

Several dead men lay in a yard, dressed in blue uniforms and black boots visible from under the aluminum blankets covering the bodies.

Vitaliy, 56, said he saw the plane descend rapidly and crash into the grounds of the kindergarten before debris was thrown further into the block of flats. “I thought it was a rocket engine or something, something really big,” he said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy ordered an investigation into what he called a “terrible tragedy.”

“The pain is indescribable,” he said in a statement.

Monastyrskyi died along with his first deputy, Yevheniy Yenin, and other ministry officials who were flying in the helicopter operated by the state emergency service.

Ukraine’s SBU State Security Service said it would consider possible causes, including a violation of flight rules, a technical malfunction or intentional destruction.

Western leaders sent condolences and paid tribute to Monastyrskyi, 42, a lawyer and lawmaker. US President Joe Biden expressed his condolences to the families of the crash victims and said the US would honor Monastyrskyi with a continued commitment to preserving Ukraine’s democracy.

Since Ukraine regained significant territory in the east and south in the second half of 2022, front lines have tightened and Kyiv says new Western weapons, especially heavy battle tanks, are vital for it to regain the boost this year.

Speaking by video link at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskiy said Western supplies of tanks and air defense systems to counter Russia’s missile attack campaign should arrive more quickly and surrender faster than Moscow can. to carry out attacks.

“Ukraine’s supply of air defense systems must survive the upcoming missile attacks from Russia,” Zelenskiy said. “Western Tank Supplies Must Survive Another Russian Tank Invasion.”

In the latest announcement of new aid, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand visited Kyiv on Wednesday and promised the Senator 200 armored personnel carriers.

On Friday, Western allies will meet at a US airbase in Germany to offer more weapons to Ukraine. Attention is particularly focused on Germany, which has veto power over any decision to send its Leopard tanks, which are deployed by NATO-allied armies across Europe and widely seen as the best fit for Ukraine.

Polish President Andrzej Duda told the Davos meeting that he feared Russia was preparing a new offensive in Ukraine in a few months, so it was crucial to provide additional support to Kyiv with modern tanks and missiles.

Poland and Finland have already said they will send Leopards if Germany approves them. Berlin says a decision will be top of the agenda for Boris Pistorius, appointed Germany’s new defense minister earlier this week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting an air defense factory in St Petersburg, said the Russian military industry could mean “victory is assured, I have no doubt about that”.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow saw no prospects for peace talks and that there could be no negotiations with Zelenskiy. Russia has said talks are possible only if Ukraine recognizes Moscow’s claims to Ukrainian territory; Kyiv says it will fight until Russia withdraws from all of Ukraine.

In the central city of Dnipro, the civilian death toll from a missile that hit an apartment block on Saturday rose to 45, including six children, including an 11-month-old boy, Zelenskiy said on Tuesday.

Moscow denies intentionally targeting civilians. He launched what he calls his special military operation in Ukraine, saying Kyiv’s growing ties to the West posed a security threat.

Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been forced to flee in what Kyiv and the West call an unprovoked invasion to crush Ukraine’s independence – achieved when the Moscow-led Soviet Union broke up in 1991 – and seize their lands.

© Thomson Reuters 2023.

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