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Russian pilot who defected with Mi-8 helicopter gives new details in interview

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CNN
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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.

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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.

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“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.”

Maxim Kuzminov speaking in an interview published Monday.

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.

At the time, one unofficial Russian Telegram channel, surprised by the flight data, reported that an Mi-8 helicopter had flown into Ukraine and landed in the central region of Poltava by mistake.

“No one has done this before, but I hope we can now scale it up,” said Budanov.

In the newly published interview, the pilot also pushed back against Russian misinformation about the invasion of Ukraine.

“The truth is, there are no Nazis or fascists here. It’s a real disgrace what is happening here. Murder, tears, blood. People are simply killing each other. That’s all I can make of this and I don’t want to be a part of it,” he said.

“What is going on now is simply the genocide of the Ukrainian people. Both Ukrainian and Russian. The motivation for my action was to not contribute to these crimes. Ukraine will unequivocally win this war simply because the people are very united. Before they were not like this, but now they are very unified. The whole world is helping them, because first and foremost, human life should be valued.”

The pilot also urged other Russians in the military to defect to Ukraine.

“You’ll be provided for, for the rest of your lives. You will be offered a job everywhere, no matter what you do. You’ll simply discover a world of colors.”

CNN has been unable to verify the pilot’s identity. But Agenstvo, an independent Russian Telegram channel, said that it had found Kuzminov’s social media profile and that he was an attack pilot of the 319th separate helicopter regiment of the Eastern Military District.

Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov, who has well-established contacts in the Defense Ministry, earlier reported that “the helicopter is fully intact and will be added to the Ukrainian Armed Forces after a detailed examination of its equipment.”

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