A Ukrainian helicopter has crashed near a kindergarten and a residential building just outside of Kyiv, leaving 14 dead, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy and other senior ministry officials, as well as one child in what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called “a terrible tragedy.”
Monastyrskiy’s first deputy minister, Yevhen Yenin, and State Secretary Yuriy Lubkovych were also among the dead.
Ihor Klymenko, the chief of Ukraine’s police, said nine of those killed were aboard the emergency services helicopter.
Klymenko was later named acting interior minister and said the Interior Ministry was functioning.
“Despite the internal devastation that we all feel, the leadership team of the Interior Ministry is working confidently and steadily,” he said, according to the ministry’s press service. “Our duty: to fulfill all the tasks planned by Minister Monastyrskiy. And most importantly to protect people and Ukraine.”
It was not immediately known if the crash was caused by an accident or if it was a consequence of the war. Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Monastyrskiy, said that an investigation had been opened into the incident.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow and Ukrainian officials made no reference to any Russian attack in the area at the time.
But the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said investigators were focusing on three possible causes for the crash: a violation of flight rules, the technical malfunction of the helicopter, or deliberate actions to destroy the vehicle. The SBU did not elaborate on the third potential cause.
A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuriy Ihnat, said the helicopter was a Super Puma supplied by France.
A French defense official quoted by the AP news agency said the helicopter was sold to Kyiv in 2019 and was not part of equipment that France has provided since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2021.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be named, according to ministry policy.
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Monastyrskiy is the most senior Ukrainian official to have died since the start of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. A trained lawyer and a key member of Zelenskiy’s party, the 42-year-old had served as interior minister from July 2021.
“Today, a terrible tragedy occurred in Brovary, Kyiv region. An [emergency services] helicopter crashed, and a fire broke out at the crash site. The pain is unspeakable,” Zelenskiy said in a statement on Facebook.
European Council President Charles Michel decried the deaths, calling Monastyrskiy “a great friend of the EU.”
“We join Ukraine in grief following the tragic helicopter accident,” the president of the European Council said in a message posted on Twitter.
U.S. President Joe Biden offered condolences to the families of the people killed, reiterating that the United States has an “unfailing partnership” with Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.
“We grieve with all those who are mourning this heartbreaking tragedy,” Biden said in a statement, calling Monastyrskiy a “reformer and patriot.”
The incident came as Russian forces kept focusing their offensive efforts on Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk and as Kyiv again urged its Western allies to speed up approval for the delivery of advanced heavy weaponry including modern tanks.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily report that Bakhmut and Avdiyivka, where heavy fighting has been going on for months, remained Moscow’s main targets in Donetsk, while the settlement of Bilohoryvka in the neighboring Luhansk region has also come under intensified attacks over the past 24 hours.
Russian troops carried out six missile strikes over the same interval, three of which hit civilian infrastructure targets in the cities of Kupyansk and Kramatorsk, as well as 14 air strikes and 95 rocket system salvoes, the General Staff said.
It also warned that the threat of Russian air and missile strikes on civilian objects remains high throughout Ukraine.
Over the past several months, Russia has relentlessly targeted civilian settlements and energy infrastructure networks, leaving millions of Ukrainians in the dark and cold in the middle of winter.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at his annual news conference on January 18 that the Kremlin will achieve its objectives in Ukraine despite what he said was a “hybrid war” waged by the West against Russia.
Lavrov said Russia saw no prospects of peace talks and there could be no negotiations with Zelenskiy.
Moscow has said talks are possible only if Kyiv recognizes Russia’s claims to parts of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine says it will not stop fighting until all its lands are liberated.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana told military chiefs from across Europe gathered in Brussels on January 18 that there are indications Russia is preparing for an extended war.
“We have no indication that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s goals have changed,” said Geoana, noting that Russia has mobilized more than 200,000 additional troops. “So we must be prepared for the long haul; 2023 will be a difficult year and we need to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Speaking at the opening of the military chiefs’ meeting in Brussels, Geoana also said NATO nations must invest more in defense, ramp up military industrial manufacturing, and harness new technologies to prepare for future wars.