The Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter is now providing key aviation intelligence to Ukraine, defense agency says

  • The Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a helicopter last month is now helping Ukraine fight Russia.

  • Maksym Kuzminov is providing Russian aviation intelligence to Ukraine, officials claim.

  • Ukraine says Kuzminov was rewarded with $500,000, and he and his parents are safe in Ukraine.

The Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter last month is arming Ukraine with more than just military equipment, according to the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine.

Maksym Kuzminov, the helicopter pilot who Ukraine says switched sides in a daring defection, is now providing the Ukrainian military with key Russian aviation intelligence, according to an interview with Kuzminov released by the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine.

Kuzminov is sharing information about Russia's communication systems and airfields network with Ukraine's intelligence service, the agency said.

The interview with Kuzminov, in which he publicly discussed his defection for the first time, was included in a one-hour documentary titled "Downed Russian Pilots" that was uploaded to YouTube by Ukraine's defense intelligence earlier this month.

"By this well-planned and managed mission, we managed to cause a lot of sensitive and shocking harm to the Russian Airspace military forces," Artem Shevchenko, a military journalist who narrated the documentary, said.

News of Kuzminov's defection was first made public by Ukraine in late August, but the side-switching itself culminated in a tense showdown in a Kharkiv airfield on August 9.

Kuzminov first reached out to Ukraine's Defense Intelligence at the end of 2022, jumpstarting a plan for him to flee Russia with his helicopter. After months of planning, which included the removal of Kuzminov's parents from Russia to Ukraine, he finally made his move in August, flying the helicopter at a low altitude in radio silence mode across the border and into Ukrainian territory.

Two other crew members were on board who were not aware of the defection and when they tried to flee they were "eliminated," Ukrainian officials told Radio Free Europe in August.

Ukraine's defense intelligence said in the documentary that Kuzminov was injured in the final stage of the defection but was quickly treated with medical assistance.

Footage in the documentary shows the Mi-8 helicopter sitting in a large grass field as Ukrainian service members circle the aircraft and look inside. One photo shows two Ukrainian soldiers standing in front of the helicopter with their thumbs up.

After Kuzminov landed in the Kharkiv region, the helicopter was eventually moved to safer territory, Ukraine's defense intelligence said.

The 2016 Mi-8 AMTSh hails from Russia's 319 separate helicopter regiment based in the Primorsky Region. The aircraft will be used to "replenish" Ukraine's military fleet, the defense intelligence said.

Kuzminov and his family are currently safe in Ukraine. The pilot was rewarded with $500,000 for defecting with his helicopter after the Ukrainian government last year implemented a program that incentivizes Russian military members to defect with their equipment in exchange for hefty monetary rewards.

In his interview, Kuzminov said he defected to avoid being complicit in Russia's "crimes" and encouraged other Russian service members to follow his lead and defect.

"Ukraine is going to win this war, this is for certain," Kuzminov said. "Because Ukrainian nation has united tremendously."

Andrii Yusov, an official with Ukraine's Defense Intelligence, told Radio Svoboda this week that there has been a 70% daily uptick in calls to a state-run defection hotline since Kuzminov's defection was made public.

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