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The Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter is encouraging other Russians to do the same, promising they'll be taken care of for life

A screen grab of Maxim Kuzminov.
The Defense Intelligence of Ukraine published a video interview with a man identified as a Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter last month.Defense Intelligence of Ukraine
  • A Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter spoke publicly for the first time.

  • Ukraine's Defense Intelligence published an interview with a man it said was the pilot.

  • The man said he had defected because he didn't want to be involved in genocide.

The Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter and fighter-jet parts spoke publicly for the first time this week about how he pulled off his daring escape.

Ukraine's Defense Intelligence published an interview with a man it said was the Russian pilot who landed a Mi-8 AMTSh on a Ukrainian air base last month — in what officials said was the culmination of a six-month secret defection plot that involved moving the pilot's family out of Russia and into Ukraine.

The Ukrainian defense agency identified the pilot as Maksym Kuzminov, a 28-year-old former captain in Russia's 319th separate helicopter regiment. Insider was unable to independently confirm the man's identity, but Agenstvo, an independent Russian Telegram channel, said it found Kuzminov's social-media profile, which suggested his identity as an attack pilot in the Eastern Military District.

The Defense Intelligence on Sunday published a documentary on YouTube titled "Downed Russian Pilots" that detailed the defection plot. Kuzminov gave a video interview in which he said he'd defected as part of a special operation under the code name "Synytsia."

"I contacted representatives of the intelligence of Ukraine, explained my situation. I was offered security guarantees, new documents, monetary compensation, a reward," Kuzminov said. "We discussed the details and started planning my flight directly."

Ukraine has sought to incentivize Russian troops to defect since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a law last year courting demoralized Russian troops, offering monetary rewards to Russians who defected with their equipment.

A helicopter fetches $500,000, the legislation says. It was not immediately clear whether Kuzminov was compensated.

The pilot said he coordinated with Ukrainian military intelligence, which was able to create the circumstances for his safe defection. Kuzminov said he realized he was near the border while flying one day, so he decided to stay at a low altitude in radio-silence mode.

"No one knew what was wrong with me," he said. "Apparently, no one understood what happened for three, four days. I flew successfully and landed."

Russian propaganda outlets at the time said the helicopter landed at a Ukrainian air base in Kharkiv by mistake after the pilot became disoriented, but Kuzminov rejected those claims, speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin's narrative about the war.

"What is happening now is simply genocide of the Ukrainian people: both Ukrainian and Russian," Kuzminov said.

The pilot said he defected because he didn't want to be involved in committing war crimes.

"Ukraine will definitely win this war, simply because the people are very united," Kuzminov said. "The whole world is helping because it understands that human life must be valued."

Kuzminov encouraged other Russian pilots and members of the military to follow his example and defect.

"You'll be provided for, for the rest of your lives. You will be offered a job everywhere, no matter what you do," he said, according to a CNN translation.

The legislative bill passed by the Ukrainian Rada last year also promised "secrecy, a safe stay in Ukraine, and support in obtaining new documents and leaving for a third country" for any Russian soldiers who abandoned their post.

The Defense Intelligence's write-up of Kuzminov's interview didn't mention the other members of his crew who were taken by surprise when the helicopter landed in enemy territory.

When it occurred to the two crew members that they were in Ukraine, almost 200 miles from the front line, they started to freak out and tried to run, Ukrainian officials told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last month. The two crew members were unwilling to surrender and subsequently "eliminated," military officials said.

Read the original article on Business Insider