A Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine last month has revealed details of the daring operation to fly across the border in his Mi8 combat helicopter, in an interview published by Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence.
The pilot, named by Ukrainian officials as Maxim Kuzminov, explained in the interview how he planned his defection and why he felt compelled to do so.
“I contacted representatives of Ukrainian intelligence, explained my situation, to which they offered this option: ‘Come on, we guarantee your safety, guarantee new documents, guarantee monetary compensation, a reward,’” the pilot said, in a recording released Monday.
The head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence, Kyrolo Budanov, revealed in August how Ukrainian officials had been able to help the pilot to defect.
“We were able to create the conditions to get his whole family out undetected, and eventually create the conditions so that he could take over this aircraft with a crew that did not know what was happening,” Budanov told Radio Liberty at the time.
“Two more people were with him – a full crew of three persons in total. When they realized where they had landed, they tried to escape. Unfortunately, they were eliminated. We would prefer (to take) them alive, but it is what it is.”
In the interview released Monday, the pilot detailed how the event unfolded.
During one flight, the pilot said “I realized that I was near the border. I relayed my location. I said: ‘Let’s give it a try, I’m not that far away.’ And, having made a final decision, I flew at an extremely low altitude in radio silence mode. No one understood what was going on with me at all.”
The pilot said he was able to land in Ukraine, where he was met by Ukrainian officials.
The circumstances of the interview are unclear, but the pilot appeared to be speaking freely.
Read more about the flight to Ukraine