BROVARY, Ukraine – A helicopter crashed in fog near a nursery outside Kyiv on Wednesday, January 18, killing 14 people, including Ukraine‘s interior minister, in what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called a “terrible tragedy,” before calling for an investigation.
The crash set off a large fire, and an entire side of the local nursery building was charred. The Kyiv region’s governor said children and staff had been in the nursery at the time of the crash shortly after 8 am (0600 GMT).
Several bodies lay on the ground of a courtyard, their boots sticking out from under blankets, after the helicopter – described by the air force spokesperson as a French Super Puma – slammed into a building in Brovary, northeast of the capital.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said he had asked the country’s SBU intelligence service to launch a criminal investigation.
Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi died along with his first deputy, Yevheniy Yenin, and the ministry’s state secretary. Monastyrskyi was 42 and had been interior minister since July 2021.
Ukrainian officials have not suggested the crash was an attack by Russian forces waging war in Ukraine. Air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said it could take several weeks to investigate the disaster.
“Today, a terrible tragedy occurred in Brovary, Kyiv region,” Zelenskiy said on the Telegram messaging app. “The pain is unspeakable.”
The SBU said it was considering several possible causes, including a breach of flight rules, a technical malfunction, and the intentional destruction of the helicopter.
“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,” said Hlib, a 17-year-old resident.
“We took the children and passed them over the fence, away from the nursery as it was on fire, especially the second floor,” he said near the nursery, where people left flowers and soft toys at a small makeshift memorial.
A subdued Zelenskiy expressed gratitude to passersby and nursery employees for safeguarding the children during nearly nine hours of rescue efforts.
“This has been a dreadful day which we must get through and must endure. And we will endure it,” he said in his address, singling out childcare workers by name.
“To Miss Ruslana, Miss Olena, Miss Tamara, Miss Kateryna, all those working in the nursery, thank you!” he said.
The crash was another blow to Ukraine, days after 45 people were killed in an apartment block hit during a missile attack on the east-central city of Dnipro.
POLICE CHIEF APPOINTED
The government quickly named national police chief Ihor Klymenko as acting interior minister.
The State Emergency Service put the death toll at 14, including the three helicopter crew and six others on board. One child was killed on the ground and 11 other children were among 25 injured people, it said.
Vitaliy, a 56-year-old resident, said he saw the helicopter fall quickly and crash onto the grounds of the nursery in the centre of a residential courtyard.
The helicopter wreckage later lay crumpled by an apartment block, rotor blades resting against the entrance.
Above the charred entrance to the two-storey nursery building was a gaping hole several feet wide.
“There was no explosion. I thought it was the engine from a rocket or something like that, something very large, about 10 metres tall,” Vitaliy said.
Two other witnesses described seeing an object hurtling towards the nursery from a northwesterly direction.
(Reporting by Max Hunder in Brovary and Tom Balmforth in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ron Popeski; Editing by Timothy Heritage and David Ljunggren)