The Russian pilot who defected by landing a Mi-8 helicopter at a Ukrainian airbase on Wednesday caught his crew off guard, according to Ukraine’s military intelligence chief.
The crew was taken by surprise when the pilot landed the helicopter, and they were initially unaware of their location and the situation, revealed Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s main Directorate of Intelligence, during an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a US-funded news source.
This operation has provided Ukraine with a valuable asset that can be employed against Russia. The Ukrainian government has been offering substantial rewards to Russian personnel who defect and bring equipment with them. However, it remains unclear whether the pilot in this case received any payment.
As soon as the two crew members realized they were in Ukraine, far from the front lines at a distance of nearly 200 miles, they panicked and attempted to escape, as recounted by Budanov to RFE/RL.
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency informed the Kyiv Post that the helicopter crew was not willing to surrender and consequently met a fatal outcome.
Budanov explained to RFE/RL that they were killed during their escape attempt. He expressed that Ukraine would have preferred to spare their lives, but circumstances left them with no alternative.
Photographs released by Ukrainian outlet Pravda seem to depict the helicopter after its landing as well as documents stained with blood.
Budanov refrained from revealing the motives behind the pilot’s defection, and the pilot’s name has not been publicly disclosed.
This extraordinary defection was the culmination of a covert six-month scheme, a spokesperson from Ukraine’s directorate of military intelligence conveyed to local media.
In the RFE/RL interview, Budanov conveyed that this operation ranked among the agency’s most successful ones.
“The pilot is in good condition, everything is fine,” Budanov assured RFE/RL. He also mentioned that the helicopter was currently in Kyiv.
Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov shared on Facebook that the aircraft was undamaged and, after a comprehensive evaluation of its equipment, would become part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
While the Kyiv Post reported that Russian propaganda outlets attributed the helicopter’s landing in Ukraine to a mistake, Butusov stated in an earlier Facebook post that this explanation was highly improbable. He pointed out that the helicopter had touched down about 186 miles away from the front lines. Given the typical low altitude and slow speed of this helicopter model, it would have required a significant amount of extra fuel to cover the distance, making disorientation an implausible reason for the landing.
In addition to the helicopter, the pilot also brought components of Su-27 and Su-30SM fighter jets, according to the Kyiv Post.