Kyiv helicopter crash is a grave blow to Ukraine’s war efforts and a personal loss for Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos by video on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)
Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos by video on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)

In the days leading up to the war in Ukraine there was still flickering hope that negotiations could work out and that peace would prevail in the gathering darkness.

However, interior minister Denys Monastyrsky had little doubt Vladimir Putin was determined to invade. To demonstrate the extent of Moscow’s military build-up on the border, he took a group of journalists to the Donbas.

In the town of Novoluhanske, we came under sustained fire. “You see, they did this without provocation,” he exclaimed as we took cover. “This is what the people around here have to live with every day. The Russians are creating false stories and carrying out this kind of bombing, they are creating excuses for war.”

Two Ukrainian soldiers – Anton Sydorov, 35, the father of three daughters, and 34-year-old Denys Kononenko, the father of a young son – were killed by howitzer and mortar rounds that day. Five days later, Russian troops rolled into Ukraine.

Mr Monastyrsky became one of the key leaders in the defence of Kyiv. His ministry, in charge of security, national guard, police and emergency services played a crucial role in those early days of resistance, and continued to do so as the conflict unfolded across the country.

Mr Monastyrsky later went on to head investigations into atrocities carried out against civilians, while also liaising on prisoner exchanges including the release of 200 Ukrainians captured at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. He also became a familiar figure to the public with his regular updates on casualty figures.

His death, along with six of his senior officials, in Wednesday’s Kyiv helicopter crash is a grave blow to the country’s war efforts, as it prepares for the next phase of the campaign with an expected escalation in combat.

The 42-year-old minister is the most senior Ukrainian official to die since the beginning of the conflict and one of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s closest and most long-term confidantes. Those killed alongside him included his deputy, Yevhen Yenin, and state secretary Yurii Lubkovich, who ran the department.

At least a dozen people were killed in the crash, including children, as the aircraft came down near a nursery outside the capital.

Ukraine’s security service SBU said it was investigating several possible reasons behind the crash including technical faults, breach of flight safety rules as well as sabotage. The helicopter was flying low, as is the practice with such flights in order to avoid anti-aircraft missiles.

Ukraine’s police chief Ihor Klymenko, who has taken over as interior minister, said the aircraft belonged to the emergency services. Other officials said it was a French Super Puma. There is nothing yet to indicate the crash was anything other than an accident. But in the febrile atmosphere of war there have been rumours and speculation on social media of plots and of explosives on board.

There have been other cases in the recent past of senior security officials killed in air accidents at a time of conflict. In 1994, an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, killing 25 senior British intelligence experts deployed in Northern Ireland including personnel from MI5, the army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary as well as two Special Forces pilots.