Ukraine‘s interior minister and other officials were among more than a dozen people killed by a helicopter crash Wednesday near a kindergarten outside Kyiv, in a blow to the war-battered nation’s government.
There was no immediate claim from Kyiv that Russian forces were involved in the tragedy, and authorities launched an investigation while crews were still working near the charred remains of the aircraft.
Officials initially said that 18 people died but have revised the toll down to 14 — including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, other ministry officials and a child — as search operations ended.
Dmytro Serbyn, who was in his apartment when the helicopter crashed, rushed to help children as soon as he saw flames billowing over the kindergarten.
“They were looking for their parents, children were crying… their faces were cut and covered in blood,” Serbyn told AFP.
“We pulled out one girl, I wrapped her in a jacket, her face was wounded… She did not tremble, did not cry.”
The child, Polina, was so badly injured that her father did not immediately recognise her, Serbyn told AFP.
The helicopter carrying 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.
Twenty five people were wounded, emergency services said in their last update.
– ‘Terrible tragedy’ –
Amateur footage circulating on social media in the immediate aftermath captured cries and a large blaze.
“Today, a terrible tragedy occurred in Brovary, Kyiv region,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on social media. “The pain is unspeakable.”
It was not immediately clear where the helicopter was going.
The presidency said it was headed to frontline regions, while Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said it was flying to a missile strike site in Dnipro.
Zelensky instructed law enforcement to launch an investigation into the circumstances of the crash.
Britain said “Ukrainians will continue to be collateral (victims) as long as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin continues his needless war,” while Berlin “offered Germany’s support in identifying the causes of the helicopter crash”.
The circumstances of the tragedy will be clarified in the next few days, Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko told AFP.
Klitschko also paid hommage to Monastyrsky “young, very creative, good person… always proactive in supporting and defending the lives of our citizens.”
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.”
– International condolences –
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.”
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 September 2020.
The town of Brovary is located some 20 kilometres (12 miles) 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.