A Russian pilot who hijacked a military helicopter to defect to Ukraine says he tricked his crew members into joining him and that other Russian troops should follow his example.
Maksim Kuzminov is spilling details about the special operation for the first time since Ukrainian intelligence revealed the defection last month, shutting down claims by Russian propagandists that the Mi-8 chopper and its crew had simply gotten “lost” while transporting parts for fighter jets.
Instead, Kuzminov confirmed, he worked closely with Ukrainian authorities to pull off the sneaky defection, veering off course to land at a Ukrainian base in Kharkiv.
“There were two crew members with me. We didn’t have any weapons, our pilots fly without weapons,” Kuzminov told reporters at a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday. “Nobody could put up any resistance,” he said, because he was the only one who knew how to fly the hijacked Russian chopper.
His crew members began to panic as they realized what was happening, he said.
“I was calming the guys down, I told them everything was fine, that good people live here and everything will be great. But they started to get scared and behave themselves a bit aggressively, and they ran from the helicopter towards the border,” Kuzminov said, adding that “it’s possible they were liquidated” as they fled. Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate confirmed separately on Tuesday that the two crew members “decided not to surrender and died immediately after landing.”
Kuzminov said the chopper was fired upon as it crossed the border into Ukraine to defect, “I assume by the Russian side.”
Now, Kuzminov, who is reportedly not being held as a prisoner of war but is instead seeking to join Ukrainian aviation, is calling on other Russian troops to switch sides, so as not to “enable these crimes” against Ukraine. His family was evacuated to Ukraine ahead of his defection.
“There are no fascists or Nazis here… What is happening now is just a genocide of the Ukrainian people,” Kuzminov said in a video released this week by Ukrainian intelligence.
“Nobody wants this war. When Ukraine will win is just a question of time,” he said.