At least 14 people, including Ukraine’s interior minister and one child, have been killed in a helicopter crash near a nursery outside the capital, Kyiv, according to emergency services.
Interior minister Denys Monastyrskyy, his deputy Yevhen Yenin and State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Yurii Lubkovych were among those killed on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear what caused the helicopter to crash in the town of Brovary, a commuter town that was the scene of fierce fighting early in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SESU) said in its latest update the death toll at 3pm local time (13:00 GMT) stood at 14, including one child. It had previously said 16 people, including three children, were killed in the crash, while a local official had earlier put the death toll at 18.
Dozens of people, including children, were wounded.
“There were children and … staff in the nursery at the time of this tragedy,” Oleksii Kuleba, governor of Kyiv region, wrote on Telegram.
“Children from the kindergarten are in another educational institution, and relevant services are working with them,” he said, adding that all emergency services are on site.
Videos of the crash shared on social media showed a burning building and people could be heard screaming. Several bodies draped in foil blankets lay in a courtyard near the damaged nursery and debris was scattered over a playground.
Deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said in a briefing that the helicopter was going to one of the “hot spots” of the war with Russia, noting that more details will be provided later, according to the RBK-Ukraine news agency.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, said on Telegram that the investigation is being carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine.
“For now, we are considering all possible versions of the helicopter crash accident,” Kostin said.
‘A huge blow to the country’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the crash “a terrible tragedy”.
“Today, a terrible tragedy occurred in Brovary, Kyiv region. A SES [State Emergency Service] helicopter crashed, and a fire broke out at the crash site. The pain is unspeakable,” he said in a statement on social media.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Kyiv, said the deaths were a “huge blow” for the country “on a government level”.
“This is Ukraine’s interior minister, one of the highest posts in the country; his deputy,” Butler said. “These are key figures in Ukraine’s government at a time when the government is at war with Russia, so this will be a huge blow to the country no doubt.
“You can only imagine some of the conversations happening right now, in Kyiv in those government circles as to what’s going to happen next.”
Monastyrskyy, 42, responsible for the police and security inside Ukraine, is the most senior Ukrainian official to die since the war began.
A trained lawyer, he had served as Ukraine’s interior minister since July 2021. He was a key member of Zelenskyy’s party Servant of the People and was married, with two children.
“My colleagues, my friends. What a tragic loss. Deepest condolences to their families,” said Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser.
The United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman called Monastyrskyy “a leading light in supporting the Ukrainian people during Putin’s illegal invasion”.
“When we spoke in October I was struck by his determination, optimism and patriotism,” she said on Twitter.
‘Very suspicious’ incident
Air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said it could take several weeks to investigate the disaster. The helicopter was a French Super Puma operated by Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies, he said.
“Unfortunately, the sky does not forgive mistakes, as pilots say, but it’s really too early to talk about the causes,” he said in a TV broadcast.
Peter Zalmayev, analyst at the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, told Al Jazeera that poor visibility in Brovary may have been a factor behind the crash of the helicopter.
However, the incident was “very suspicious; I would not rule out a possible terrorist act by the Russian Federation”, he said.
Helicopter pilots know the area they fly in and the potential obstacles regardless of weather conditions, according to Zalmayev. The Ukrainian government was also avoiding commenting on the nature of the mission that required the presence of senior interior ministry officials on board the helicopter.
Aviation accidents are fairly common in Ukraine, where the use of ageing and sometimes Soviet-era infrastructure is still common. In one of the deadliest recent incidents, 26 people, most of them air cadets, were killed when their Antonov-26 plane crashed near the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in September 2020.
The town of Brovary is located some 20km (12 miles) northeast of Kyiv and was among the urban hubs around the capital that Russian troops had tried to capture after invading Ukraine last year.
Regions around the capital are no longer the scene of fierce fighting after Russian forces were pushed back, but a series of Russian missile strikes have disrupted power supplies across the country, including in the Kyiv region.