19 Jan 2023

'No accidents' in war - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on helicopter crash that killed 14

12:37 pm on 19 January 2023
Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at the WEF meeting in Davos.

Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at the WEF meeting in Davos. Photo: AFP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said there "are no accidents at war time" after 14 people died in a helicopter crash in the capital, Kyiv.

Ukraine did not claim Russian involvement, but Zelensky told the World Economic Forum in Davos the tragedy was a consequence of the war.

Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, 42, died alongside his first deputy minister and state secretary.

The helicopter crashed near a nursery around 8.30am (local time).

One of the 14 people killed was a child, authorities said.

There is no indication the crash was anything other than an accident.

But the SBU state security service said it was following several possible causes for the crash, which included sabotage as well as a technical malfunction or breach of flight rules.

Key officials are often flown by helicopter across Ukraine at tree-level to avoid detection, but that comes with risks.

Firefighters work near the site where a helicopter crashed near a kindergarten in Ukraine.

Firefighters work near the site where a helicopter crashed near a kindergarten. Photo: AFP

The State Emergency Service first stated that up to 18 people were killed, but later revised the death toll from the crash, saying 14 had died.

All that was recognisable of the helicopter was a door panel and one of its rotors which landed on the roof of a car. Next to it were three bodies covered in foil blankets.

Monastyrsky, who was one of Zelensky's longest-serving political advisers, is the highest-profile Ukrainian casualty since the war began.

His death cuts to the heart of the government in Kyiv as the interior ministry has the vital task of maintaining security and running the police during the war.

He was a recognisable face for Ukrainians throughout the war, updating the public on casualties caused by Russian missile strikes since Ukraine was invaded in February 2022.

The deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said the minister had been in the helicopter to travel to a war "hot spot".

The head of police in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Volodymyr Tymoshko, said the ministerial team were on their way to meet him there and he had spoken to them only yesterday.

Following Monastyrsky's death, Ihor Klymenko - the head of Ukraine's national police force - has been appointed acting interior minister.

Tymoshenko said the interior ministry's work would not be affected by the loss of its leaders, but government colleagues were visibly shocked as they reacted on national TV.

A friend of the late minister, MP Mariia Mezentseva, said it was a tragedy for everyone as the ministry had a significant role in Ukraine's response to the invasion.

"He responded 24/7 to his colleagues, friends and family. He was very close to President Zelensky from day one of his presidential campaign," she told the BBC.

Other officials who died in the crash included Tetiana Shutiak, an aide to Monastyrsky, first deputy minister Yevhen Yenin and state secretary Yuriy Lubkovych, whose task was to organise the work of the ministry.

Before he moved to the interior ministry, Yenin helped represent Ukraine's government abroad.

US President Joe Biden expressed his condolences to all victims of the crash.

Parents were bringing their children to the kindergarten before going to work when the helicopter came down.

"The pain is unspeakable," Zelensky said. "The helicopter fell on the territory of one of the kindergartens."

Many of the casualties were on the ground. As well as the child that was killed, 11 of the 25 injured on the ground were youngsters.

Witnesses in Kyiv said Russia's war was to blame for the disaster.

"It was very foggy and there was no electricity, and when there's no electricity there are no lights on the buildings," local resident Volodymyr Yermelenko told the BBC.

Other witnesses said the pilot had tried to avoid high-rise buildings before the crash, and instead went down near the kindergarten.

One local woman told the BBC that she had seen a terrible flash as the helicopter circled above her home. The pilot had clearly tried to avoid her 10-storey block of flats and chose to go down closer to the smaller building, she said.

"Parents were running, screaming. There was panic," said local volunteer Lidiya. Emergency services and residents rushed to evacuate the children as fire spread through the nursery building.

Another resident, Dmytro, described jumping over a fence to help get children out. One girl he picked up was called Polina, but when her father ran in calling her name he did not recognise her as her face was covered in blood.

It was only four days ago that Ukraine was hit by one of the worst attacks since the start of the war in which 45 civilians were killed.

A Russian missile hit a block of flats in the central city of Dnipro killing 45 people, including six children.


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