Ukraine’s interior minister and other senior security officials died when their helicopter crashed near a nursery school in a suburb of Kyiv, killing all nine people on board and five others on the ground, including one child.
Investigators said it could take weeks to determine what caused Wednesday morning’s crash, which killed interior minister Denys Monastyrsky, his senior deputies Yevhen Yenin and Yuriy Lubkovych and other colleagues as they flew to Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine.
“It is an indescribable pain ... Denys, Yevhen, Yuriy, the team of the ministry of internal affairs – true patriots of Ukraine. May they rest in peace. May all those whose lives were taken this black morning rest in peace,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Twenty-five people were injured, including 11 children, when the French-supplied Super Puma helicopter plunged from foggy skies in the Brovary district on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv and burst into flames near a nursery school.
“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,” a local resident called Hlib (17) told reporters at the scene. “We took the children and passed them over the fence, away from the nursery as it was on fire.”
Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal announced that national police chief Ihor Klymenko would serve as acting interior minister, and said “the necessary protocols are in place to maintain control over all [security] processes” in the country.
“All agencies are now working at the scene to find out, step-by-step and in detail, why the helicopter crashed ... The investigation will take some time, so we urge you to refrain from theories and speculation and to wait for official comments and conclusions,” he added.
Before he delivered an address by video link to the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, Mr Zelenskiy asked participants in Davos to take part in a minute’s silence to remember those killed in the crash.
The death of some of Ukraine’s top security officials in a crash during all-out war with Russia inevitably generated speculation over possible Kremlin involvement, but the Kyiv authorities gave no indication that foul play had caused the disaster.
“It’s tragic. So far there is no evidence that it was anything other than a tragic accident,” British defence secretary Ben Wallace said during a visit to Belfast.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said that “we join Ukraine in grief following the tragic helicopter accident in Brovary. Minister Denys Monastyrsky was a great friend of the EU. We share our deepest condolences with the families of the victims.”
German chancellor Olaf Scholz said the crash “shows once again the huge price that Ukraine is having to pay in this war. On this sad day, our thoughts are with the families of the victims and those who have been injured”.
Mr Scholz’s government is under mounting pressure to allow its allies to transfer German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, in a move that Mr Zelenskiy says would help his country expel Russia’s invasion force after 11 months of all-out war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Britain has pledged to send about 14 Challenger tanks to Ukraine and Poland says it will offer a similar number of Leopards if an “international coalition” on the issue is formed; Finland has also indicated that it will provide Leopards to Kyiv if Berlin gives the green light; dozens of Ukraine’s allies will discuss weapons supplies at Ramstein airbase in Germany on Friday.
Canadian defence minister Anita Anand announced in Kyiv on Wednesday that her country would supply it with 200 Senator armoured personnel carriers, a day after Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said in Washington that he thought it was “important we join” a US-German initiative to send advanced Patriot air defence systems to Ukraine.
Speaking to the World Economic Forum, Mr Zelenskiy said Western supplies of tanks and air defence units should come more quickly and be delivered faster than Russia was able to carry out its own attacks. “The supplying of Ukraine with air defence systems must outpace Russia’s next missile attacks. The supplies of western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks,” he said