Ukraine minister among dead in helicopter crash

KYIV: Ukraine’s interior minister was among more than a dozen people killed in a helicopter crash Wednesday near a kindergarten outside Kyiv, spurring condolences from allies. Officials initially said that 18 people had died but later revised the toll down to 16, including one of the minister’s deputies and three children. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the crash of the helicopter, which was en route to the frontline in eastern Ukraine, as a “terrible tragedy”.

There was no immediate claim from Kyiv that Russian forces were involved in downing the aircraft and an investigation has been launched into the cause. The helicopter carrying Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky slammed down next to a kindergarten and a residential building in Brovary, a commuter town for the capital Kyiv that was the scene of fierce fighting with Russian forces last year.

AFP journalists at the crash site saw the charred remains of the aircraft mixed with debris from nearby buildings and a car crushed by the blades of the helicopter. Amateur footage circulating on social media in the immediate aftermath captured cries and a large blaze. “A helicopter of the state emergency service crashed in Brovary. As a result of the crash, the leadership of the interior ministry died,” the head of Ukraine’s police service, Igor Klymenko, said in a statement.

He said that both Monastyrsky and his first deputy, Yevgeniy Yenin, were killed. According to the latest death toll cited by presidential advisor Kyrylo Tymoshenko, 16 people died. Thirty people including 12 children were hospitalized, he added. Klymenko from Ukraine’s police service said that nine of those killed were on board the helicopter when it crashed. The presidency said that the aircraft was en route to the frontline in eastern Ukraine.

Zelensky said he had instructed law enforcement bodies to launch an investigation into the circumstances of the crash and that emergency services were doing all they could on the scene. “Today, a terrible tragedy occurred in Brovary, Kyiv region,” Zelensky said on social media. “The pain is unspeakable.” Monastyrsky, 42, a trained lawyer, had served as Ukraine’s interior minister from July 2021. He was a key member of Zelensky’s party and was married with two children.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said the deaths of Monastyrsky and two other senior officials were “a great loss for the government team and the entire state”. EU chief Charles Michel expressed dismay and offered condolences. “We join Ukraine in grief following the tragic helicopter accident,” the president of the European Council said, in a message posted to social media. “Minister Denys Monastyrsky was a great friend of the EU.”

There was no immediate comment on what may have caused the crash. Aviation accidents are fairly common in Ukraine, where the use of ageing and sometimes Soviet-era infrastructure is still common. In one of the deadliest recent incidents, 26 people, most of them air cadets, were killed when their Antonov-26 plane crashed near the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in Sept 2020.

The town of Brovary is located some 20 km northeast of Kyiv and was among urban hubs around the capital that Russian troops had tried to capture after invading Ukraine last year. Regions around the capital are no longer the scene of fierce fighting after Russian forces were pushed back, but a series of Russian missile strikes have disrupted power supplies across the country, including in the Kyiv region. The crash came on the heels of a tragedy that saw 45 people including six children die when a Russian missile struck a residential building in the eastern city of Dnipro at the weekend. – AFP

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