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Ukraine's interior minister is among the dead as his helicopter crashes at a school

A boy lays a flower at the scene of a helicopter crash crash in Brovary, Ukraine, where at least 14 people died, including Ukraine's interior affairs minister Denys Monastyrsky.
Ed Ram
Getty Images
A boy lays a flower at the scene of a helicopter crash crash in Brovary, Ukraine, where at least 14 people died, including Ukraine's interior affairs minister Denys Monastyrsky.

Updated January 18, 2023 at 11:53 AM ET

BROVARY, Ukraine — Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky and a child are among at least 14 people who died in a helicopter crash Wednesday morning, after the aircraft slammed into an area holding a kindergarten and its playground in Brovary, an eastern suburb of Kyiv.

Officials initially said the death toll was even worse, but Ukraine's State Emergency Service said later that 14 people had died, including one child, along with 25 people who were injured, including 11 children. The update came after authorities identified bodies and concluded search and rescue operations.

"It is an indescribable pain," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said as he extended his condolences to the families and friends of those who were lost.

All nine people aboard the helicopter were killed, including the three-person crew.

The cause of the crash is not yet known. The area was under heavy fog early Wednesday. But Ukraine is also at war with Russia, which has frequently fired missiles at civilian areas around the country, including an apartment building in the southeastern city of Dnipro.

Neighbors describe fog, and a tower of flames

The helicopter went down in a residential area that is home to apartment buildings, a shopping center and colorful playgrounds.

The crash sent a door-sized panel from the helicopter and other parts of the aircraft flying across the kindergarten's playground. There and in an adjacent area, blankets were used to cover bodies on the ground as charred wreckage lay nearby.

Near the scene of the crash, local residents brought flowers and small knit stuffed animals, creating a memorial to those who were lost as emergency crews continued to clear debris from the area.

Nina Letun, 63, watched workers clear the site alongside her two grandchildren, Vova, 5, and Viktoria, 6. Vova is a student at the school.

"We came just to see what happened – and to realize that he won't go to this kindergarten anymore," Letun said.

Vova, wearing a puffy blue jacket and a knit hat with a pompom on it, wasn't at the school this morning.

"He was sick yesterday, that's why today he stayed with me," Letun said. "If he wasn't sick, he would have been there."

Workers pass the scene where a helicopter crashed in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday. The chief of Ukraine's National Police says the crash in a Kyiv suburb has killed 18 people, including Ukraine's interior minister and two children.
Daniel Cole / AP
A helicopter carrying the leadership of Ukraine's interior ministry crashed near a kindergarten in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday.

When they first heard the crash, Letun said, her granddaughter started to scream — at the beginning of the war, her family lived in a region that was under Russian occupation.

Letun wept as she thought about the children who died at the school. After the explosion, she said, "I saw a fire, the fire was bigger than that 12-story building" — pointing to an apartment complex that looms behind the school.

One mother, Inga Litchenko, came by pushing her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Elyzaveta, in a stroller. She says she was planning to send Elyzaveta to this very school.

"It's very frightening, you can see that the helicopter crashed into the kindergarten," Litchenko said. "I want to emphasize that it was very foggy and I don't know why they decided to take the helicopter in such weather."

Official inquiry will consider three main explanations

The Security Service of Ukraine launched an investigation on Wednesday, saying it will explore three potential explanations for the crash: that the aircraft malfunctioned; that it flew despite bad visibility; and that it was targeted by deliberate actions.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 18, 2022. The chief of Ukraine's National Police on Wednesday said a helicopter crash in a Kyiv suburb has killed 18 people, including Ukraine's interior minister and two children.
Efrem Lukatsky / AP
Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, seen here speaking during an interview last year, was aboard a helicopter that was heading to hotspots in Ukraine's war when the craft crashed, officials said.

The Ukrainian government says the interior ministry's entire leadership died, including first deputy Yevhen Yenin, State Secretary of Ministry of Internal Affairs Yuri Lubkovych, and staff members.

Hours after the disaster, Ukraine's government appointed Ihor Klymenko, the chief of Ukraine's National Police, as the acting minister of internal affairs.

According to an official from the president's office, Monastyrsky's group had planned to travel to one of the country's hot spots. Ukraine's interior ministry oversees law enforcement, the police force, the national guard and state emergency services.

Migaki reported from Ukraine. Chappell reported from Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Lauren Migaki is a senior producer with NPR's education desk. She helps tell stories about teacher strikes, college access and a new high school for young men in Washington D.C. She also produces and hosts NPR's podcast about the Student Podcast Challenge.
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