Ukraine's interior minister among at least 14 killed in suburban Kyiv helicopter crash
Denys Monastyrskyi is most senior Ukrainian official to have died since the start of war with Russia
Ukraine's interior minister and a child were among at least 14 people killed on Wednesday when a helicopter crashed into a preschool and set it ablaze in a suburb of the capital, Kyiv.
The crash of the French Super Puma helicopter in Brovary, northeast of the capital, caused a large fire. An entire side of the school building was charred.
Debris was scattered over a muddy playground. In a courtyard lay several dead interior ministry staff, their blue uniforms and black boots visible from under foil blankets draped over the bodies. A large chunk of the aircraft had landed on a car, destroying it.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the full casualty toll was still being determined and said he had ordered an investigation into the "terrible tragedy."
"The pain is unspeakable," he said in a statement.
Ukrainian state emergency services said 14 people in total — including three helicopter crew members and six others on board — had been killed. Government agencies had earlier published higher death tolls ranging up to 18.
The emergency service said one child was killed on the ground and 11 other children were among 25 injured people. The agency had earlier reported a higher death toll of children, but revised it down without explanation.
"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," Glib, a 17-year-old local resident, told Reuters at the scene.
"We took the children and passed them over the fence, away from the nursery as it was on fire, especially the second floor."
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed her condolences on Twitter, saying she was "heartbroken" by the news.
I’m heartbroken by the awful news of the helicopter crash in Brovary, and the thoughts of millions of Canadians are with the people of Ukraine on this tragic and profoundly sad day.—@cafreeland
Cause of the crash unclear
National police Chief Ihor Klymenko said Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi had been killed alongside his first deputy, Yevheniy Yenin, and other officials in the helicopter, which belonged to the state emergency service.
"There were children and ... staff in the nursery at the time of this tragedy," Kyiv region Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba wrote on Telegram.
Officials said it was too early to determine what caused the crash. None immediately spoke of an attack by Russia, which invaded Ukraine last February.
The SBU State Security Service said it would consider several possible causes, including a breach of flight rules, a technical malfunction or intentional destruction.
"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, noting it could take at least several weeks to investigate.
International dignitaries sent condolences and paid tribute to Monastyrskyi, 42, a lawyer and lawmaker appointed in 2021 to run the ministry responsible for the police. He is the most senior Ukrainian official to die since the war began.
Canada donates armoured personnel carriers
Separately, Ukraine reported intense fighting overnight in the east of the country, 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.
WATCH | A closer look at Russia's Wagner Group fighting in Ukraine:
After major Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the front lines have hardened over the last two months. Kyiv says it hopes new Western weapons would allow it to resume an offensive to recapture land, especially heavy tanks that would give its troops mobility and protection to push through Russian lines.
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, Zelenskyy said in his Tuesday night video address.
Ukrainian authorities called off the search for survivors in Dnipro on Tuesday. About 20 other people are still missing in the rubble after the attack.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced in Kyiv that Canada is purchasing and donating to Ukraine 200 Canadian-made Senator armoured personnel carriers. The vehicles, manufactured by Roshel in Mississauga, Ont., can be used for transport of personnel and equipment and medical evacuations, and allow for weapons to be mounted on them.
Anand, who also expressed condolences for the Kyiv helicopter crash victims, made the announcement of the new military aid at a joint news conference with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
Western allies will be gathering on Friday at a U.S. airbase in Germany to pledge more weapons for Ukraine. Attention is focused in particular on Germany, which has veto power over any decision to send its Leopard tanks, which are fielded by armies across Europe and widely seen as the most suitable for Ukraine.
Berlin says a decision on the tanks will be the first item on the agenda of Boris Pistorius, its new defence minister.
Britain, which sent main battle tanks over the weekend by promising a squadron of its Challengers, has called on Germany to approve the Leopards. Poland and Finland have already said they would be ready to send Leopards if Berlin allows it.
With files from CBC News