Ukraine’s interior minister and a child were among at least 14 people killed on Wednesday when a helicopter crashed into a nursery and set it ablaze in a suburb of the capital Kyiv.
Dozens of other people were hurt, including a number of children, many suffering burns. The French-made Super Puma helicopter went down in the fog in Brovary on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv, plummeting into the nursery grounds.
Ukrainian state emergency services said 14 people in total had been killed. Government agencies had earlier published higher death tolls ranging up to 18.
Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, who was on board the helicopter, was among the dead. He was the most senior Ukrainian official to die since the war began with a Russian invasion in February last year.
Residents described a frantic rescue.
“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,” Hlib, a 17-year-old local resident, told Reuters. “We took the children and passed them over the fence, away from the nursery as it was on fire.”
The entire side of the nursery building was charred. Above the entrance was a gaping hole. Nearby, debris was scattered over a muddy playground and the helicopter wreckage lay crumpled by an apartment block, rotor blades resting against the entrance.
Several dead men lay in a courtyard, wearing blue uniforms and black boots visible from under foil blankets draped over the bodies.
Vitaliy, 56, said he saw the aircraft fall quickly and crash onto the grounds of the nursery before debris was hurled further into the block of flats.
“I thought it was the engine from a rocket or something like that, something very large,” he said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy ordered an investigation into what he said was a “terrible tragedy”.
“The pain is unspeakable,” he said in a statement.
Monastyrskyi died alongside his first deputy, Yevheniy Yenin, and other ministry officials flying in the helicopter operated by the state emergency service. National police chief Ihor Klymenko was named acting interior minister in Monastyrskyi’s place.
Officials said it was too early to determine what caused the crash. None immediately spoke of an attack by Russia.
“Unfortunately, the sky does not forgive mistakes, as pilots say, but it’s really too early to talk about the causes,” air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said, adding it could take at least several weeks to investigate.
The SBU State Security Service said it would consider possible causes including a breach of flight rules, a technical malfunction or intentional destruction.
Western leaders sent condolences and paid tribute to Monastyrskyi, 42, a lawyer and lawmaker appointed in 2021 to run the ministry responsible for the police.
Separately, Ukraine reported more fighting overnight in the east, where both sides have taken huge losses for little gain in intense trench warfare over the last two months.
Ukrainian forces repelled attacks in the eastern city of Bakhmut and the village of Klishchiivka just south of it, the Ukrainian military said. Russia has focused on Bakhmut in recent weeks, claiming last week to have taken the mining town of Soledar on its northern outskirts.
After significant Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the frontlines have hardened over the last two months. Kyiv says it hopes new Western weapons will spur renewed momentum this year, especially heavy tanks which would give its troops mobility and protection to push through Russian lines.
In the latest announcement of new aid, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand visited Kyiv and pledged 200 Senator armoured personnel carriers.
Western allies will be gathering on Friday at a U.S. air base in Germany to offer more weapons for Ukraine. Attention is focused in particular on Germany, which has veto power over any decision to send its Leopard tanks, fielded by armies across Europe and widely seen as the most suitable for Ukraine.
Poland and Finland have already said they would send Leopards if Germany approves them. Berlin says a decision will be the first item on the agenda of Boris Pistorius, named Germany’s new defence minister this week.
Lithuania’s foreign minister, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said he expected a decision to send tanks: “I’m confident because this is what I’m hearing here, talking with other leaders. There is momentum,” Gabrielius Landsbergis told Reuters.
Zelenskiy was due to address Davos later on Monday by video link.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting an air defence factory in St Petersburg, said Russia’s military industrial might meant “victory is assured, I have no doubt about it.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow saw no prospects of peace talks and there could be no negotiations with Zelenskiy. Russia has said talks are possible only if Ukraine recognises Moscow’s claims to Ukrainian territory; Kyiv says it will fight until Russia quits all of Ukraine.
In the central city of Dnipro, the civilian death toll from a missile that struck an apartment block on Saturday rose to 45, including six children, among them an 11-month-old boy, Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
Around 20 other people are still missing after the attack, the deadliest for civilians of a three-month-old Russian missile bombardment campaign against cities far from the front.
Moscow denies intentionally targeting civilians. It launched what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine last year saying Kyiv’s increasing ties with the West posed a security threat.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions forced to flee homes in what Kyiv and the West call an unprovoked invasion to subdue Ukraine and seize its land.