Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with helicopter gets $500,000 reward

Russian pilot Maxim Kuzminov, 28, defected with a Mi-8 helicopter in an operation planned with Ukrainian intelligence.

A Russian military Mi-8 helicopter flies over Saur-Mogila memorial, about 60 km. (31 miles) east of Donetsk, separatist Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)
A Russian military Mi-8 helicopter flies over Ukraine's Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, in September 2022 [File: Alexei Alexandrov/AP Photo]

A Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter will receive a substantial reward of half a million dollars for changing sides and taking Russia’s military equipment with him.

Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesman, Andriy Yusov, said on Ukrainian television on Tuesday that the money would be paid in the national currency, the hryvnia, and called on other Russian military personnel to follow suit and defect to Kyiv’s side.

The case of the 28-year-old Russian helicopter pilot, Maxim Kuzminov, has been widely reported on by Ukrainian media.

“Once again, those Russians who don’t want to become war criminals, please, surrender, defect to the Ukrainian side and defend your own honour and conscience, fight against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime,” Yusov said in a television discussion on the high-profile defection.


Ukraine’s intelligence service persuaded the Russian pilot to defect in a special operation made public in August.

According to the online news site Ukrainska Pravda, the operation, which took some time to organise, involved the Russian pilot flying his helicopter into Ukrainian territory and landing in the eastern region of Kharkiv where Ukraine’s special forces were waiting.

Two Russian crew members who were onboard the helicopter, and unaware of the defection plot, refused to surrender and were killed by Ukrainian forces, according to reports.

The pilot’s family had fled Russia earlier and were reportedly in Ukraine, according to the reports.

The Mi-8 helicopter, a valuable acquisition for Ukrainian forces, was also carrying spare parts for Russian fighter jets, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

In a statement on Tuesday on the pilot’s defection, Yusov said, “This is just the beginning, there is more to come”.

The Russian pilot had made contact with Ukraine through “his initiative”, Yusov said, according to the local news outlet Ukraine Media Centre.

“At the moment, a new page is being turned – these are people who make a principled ideological decision, those who condemn the Russian war against Ukraine, who, together with equipment – currently we are talking about expensive equipment, about the Mi-8 helicopter – make a conscious decision and stand on the side of good,” he said.

Ukraine has an official list of rewards for Russian soldiers who defect with military equipment such as aircraft and heavy weapons. For a Russian tank, for example, the reward is $100,000, the DPA news agency reported.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies