A Russian pilot who recently vanished along with his Mi-8 chopper and entire crew is actually in Ukraine after defecting as part of a six-month special operation, Ukrainian intelligence officials said Wednesday.
Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate, confirmed in televised comments that the Russian military helicopter had landed at a Ukrainian air base. Sources in Ukrainian intelligence cited by Ukrainska Pravda said the pilot had been “lured” into Ukraine in the culmination of a months-long special operation.
His family had been evacuated to Ukraine ahead of time, according to the report, and along with the Russian chopper, Ukraine acquired the cargo that he had been transporting: spare parts for the Russian military’s fighter jets.
Two other crew members who were on board with the pilot reportedly had no idea the chopper was landing in Ukraine, and there are conflicting reports on their fate. Ukrainska Pravda reports that the two were “liquidated” during the special operation, while other reports suggested they had surrendered and Yusov cryptically said “work is underway with the crew.”
Moscow has yet to comment on the claims, but Kremlin-connected Telegram channels confirmed that a Russian chopper went missing recently. The Flightbomber Telegram channel on Wednesday said the Mi-8 vanished “a couple weeks ago” but insisted that the crew had simply “lost their bearings” and accidentally landed in Ukraine.
“Having understood where they landed, they tried to take off, but they were gunned down in the helicopter on the ground,” the channel claimed, saying the pilot is probably still alive but being “brutally worked over” by the Ukrainian military.
“And I ask all normal people, until the opposite is proven, don’t spread any other versions, because there cannot be any other versions.”
Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov, a former adviser to Putin, also appealed to people not to believe the “false” claim that the pilot “switched to the Ukrainian side” in a statement on Telegram, claiming the pilot is being “tortured” into saying he did.
Other pro-Kremlin Telegram channels called for a prisoner swap to bring the pilot and any surviving crew members back.
“Guys, we believe that you are alive, we’re waiting for you at home,” said one popular channel.