A Russian pilot defected to Ukraine on Wednesday, taking his helicopter with him, officials say.
Ukraine’s head of military intelligence told RFE/RL that the pilot’s crew members were taken by surprise.
They members freaked out and tried to run away before being killed, the official said.
The Russian pilot who defected by landing a Mi-8 helicopter at a Ukrainian air base on Wednesday took the rest of his crew by surprise, according to Ukraine’s head of military intelligence.
The crew did not know what was going on or where they were when they landed, said the head of Ukraine’s main Directorate of Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, in an interview with Radio Free Europe, the US-funded outlet.
The operation leaves Ukraine with a valuable piece of equipment it can now use against Russia. Ukraine has offered large rewards to defecting Russians who bring equipment with them — though its unclear whether this pilot was paid.
When it occurred to the two crew members that they were in Ukraine, almost 200 miles from the front line, they started to freak out, Bundanov said, telling RFE they tried to run.
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency told the Kyiv Post that the helicopter crew members were unwilling to surrender and were consequently “eliminated.”
Budanov said they were killed in their escape attempt. He said Ukraine would have liked to spare their lives but had no choice, per RFE.
Photos published by the Ukrainian outlet Pravda appeared to show the helicopter after the defection, and paperwork stained with blood.
Budanov did not disclose the motivation behind the defection of the pilot, who has not been publicly identified by name.
The remarkable defection was the result of a six-month-long secret plot, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s directorate of military intelligence, told local media.
Budanov said in the RFE interview that the operation was one of the best his agency had ever pulled off.
“The pilot feels great, everything is fine,” Budanov added, according to RFE.
The helicopter is currently in Kyiv, Budanov told the news outlet.
Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that the aircraft is “completely intact” and will join the Ukrainian Armed Forces after a detailed examination of its equipment.
Though the Kyiv Post reported that Russian propaganda outlets claimed the helicopter landed in Ukraine by mistake, Butusov said in an earlier Facebook post that there’s very little chance of that.
He said the helicopter landed approximately 186 miles away from the front line. The helicopter model typically flies at a low altitude, slow speed, and would have had to use a lot of extra fuel to make the journey, he said.
This would make disorientation an extremely unlikely explanation, he concluded.
Along with the helicopter, the pilot brought the parts of Su-27 and Su-30SM fighter jets, the Kyiv Post reported.
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