Ukraine’s interior minister and a child were among at least 14 people killed yesterday when a helicopter crashed into a nursery and set it ablaze in a suburb of the capital Kyiv.
Separately, Ukraine said its forces again blunted Russian attempts to advance on the front-line city Bakhmut hundreds of kilometres away in the east, where both sides have taken heavy losses for scant gain in 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 battering Ukrainian cities often far from front lines with missiles almost daily since October.
Dozens of people were injured including children, many suffering burns, after the French-made Super Puma helicopter went down in the fog in Brovary on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv, plummeting into the nursery grounds.
Ukrainian state emergency services said 14 people in total had been killed. Government agencies had earlier published higher death tolls ranging up to 18.
Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, who was on board the helicopter, was among the dead. He was the most senior Ukrainian official to die since the war began with a Russian invasion in February last year.
Residents described a frantic rescue.
“We saw wounded people, we saw children. There was a lot of fog here, everything was strewn all around. We could hear screams, we ran towards them,” Hlib, a 17-year-old local resident, told Reuters. “We took the children and passed 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 over a muddy playground and the helicopter wreckage lay crumpled by an apartment block.
Several dead men lay in a courtyard, wearing blue uniforms and black boots visible from under foil blankets draped over the bodies.
Vitaliy, 56, said he saw the aircraft fall quickly and crash onto the grounds of the nursery before debris was hurled further into the block of flats. “I thought it was the engine from a rocket or something like that, something very large,” he said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered an investigation into what he said was a “terrible tragedy”.
“The pain is unspeakable,” he said in a statement.
Monastyrskyi died alongside his first deputy, Yevheniy Yenin, and other ministry officials flying in the helicopter operated by the state emergency service.
Ukraine’s SBU State Security Service said it would consider possible causes including a breach of flight rules, a technical malfunction or intentional destruction.
Since Ukraine wrested back significant territory in the east and south in the second half of 2022, front lines have hardened and Kyiv says new Western weapons especially heavy battle tanks are vital for it to regain momentum this year.
In a speech by video link to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Zelensky said Western supplies of tanks, and air defence systems to ward off Russia’s missile strike campaign, should come more quickly and be delivered faster than Moscow is able to carry out attacks.
“The supplying of Ukraine with air defence systems must outpace Russia’s next missile attacks,” Zelensky said. “The supplies of Western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks.” In the latest announcement of new aid, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand visited Kyiv yesterday and pledged 200 Senator armoured personnel carriers.
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