At least 16 people, including Ukraine’s interior minister and three children, were killed in a helicopter crash near a kindergarten near the capital Kiev, emergency services said.
Among those killed on Wednesday were Interior Minister Denis Monastirski, his deputy Yevhen Yenin and State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior Yuriy Lubkovic.
It was not immediately clear what caused the helicopter to crash in the town of Brovary, a suburban town that was the scene of fierce fighting at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SESU) said in its latest update that the death toll was 16, including three children. A local official said earlier that 18 people died in the accident.
At least 30 people were injured, including 12 children.
“At the time of this tragedy, there were children and … staff in the kindergarten,” wrote Alexey Kuleba, the governor of the Kyiv region, on Telegram.
“The children from the kindergarten are in another educational institution and the competent services are working with them,” he said, adding that all emergency services are on the scene.
Videos of the crash posted on social media showed the building on fire and people could be heard screaming. Several bodies wrapped in foil blankets lay in the yard near the damaged nursery, and remains were strewn across the playground.
The deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said at a briefing that the helicopter was going to one of the “hot spots” of the war with Russia, noting that more details would be announced later, reports RBK-Ukraine. agency.
Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andriy Kostin said in Telegram that the investigation is being conducted by the Security Service of Ukraine.
“For now, we are considering all possible versions of the helicopter crash,” Kostin said.
“A huge blow to the country”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the accident a “terrible tragedy”.
“Today a terrible tragedy happened in Brovary in the Kyiv region. And SES [State Emergency Service] the helicopter crashed, and a fire broke out at the crash site. The pain is indescribable,” he said in a statement on social media.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Kiev, said the deaths were a “huge blow” to the country “at the government level”.
“This is the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, one of the highest positions in the country; his deputy,” Butler said. “These are key figures in the Ukrainian government at a time when the government is at war with Russia, so this will undoubtedly be a huge blow to the country.”
“You can only imagine some of the conversations going on in Kiev right now in those government circles about what’s going to happen next.”
Monastirsky, 42, responsible for police and security in Ukraine, is the most senior Ukrainian official to die since the war began.
A trained lawyer, he served as Ukraine’s interior minister from July 2021. He was a key member of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party and was married with two children.
“My colleagues, my friends. What a tragic loss. Our most sincere condolences to their families,” said Anton Gerashchenko, adviser.
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman called Monastyrsky “a leading light in support of the Ukrainian people during Putin’s illegal invasion.”
“When we spoke in October, I was struck by his determination, optimism and patriotism,” she wrote on Twitter.
A “highly suspicious” incident
Air Force spokesman Yuri Ikhnat said it could take several weeks to investigate the crash. The helicopter was a French Super Puma operated by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, he said.
“Unfortunately, the sky does not forgive mistakes, as the pilots say, but it is really early to talk about the causes,” he said in a TV broadcast.
Peter Zalmayev, an analyst at the Eurasian Democratic Initiative, told Al Jazeera that poor visibility in Brovary may have been a factor behind the helicopter crash.
However, the incident was “highly suspicious; “I would not rule out a possible terrorist act by the Russian Federation,” he said.
Helicopter pilots know the area they are flying in and potential obstacles regardless of weather conditions, says Zalmayev. The Ukrainian government also avoided commenting on the nature of the mission, which required the presence of senior interior ministry officials in the helicopter.
Air crashes are quite common in Ukraine, where the use of outdated and sometimes Soviet-era infrastructure is still common. In one of the deadliest recent incidents, 26 people, most of them cadets, died when their Antonov-26 plane crashed near the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in September 2020.
The town of Brovary is located some 20 km (12 miles) northeast of Kiev and was among the urban centers around the capital that Russian troops tried to capture after invading Ukraine last year.
The 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 disrupted electricity supplies across the country, including in the Kiev region.