The Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (GUR) scored a major propaganda coup this week, as it announced that a Russian pilot defected – and he did so with his Mi-8AMTSh helicopter, which was also carrying spare parts for the Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30SM jet fighters (NATO reporting names Flanker/Flanker-C/G/H).
The Russian aviator was flying between two Russian air bases when he veered towards Ukrainian territory, landing near the city of Kharkiv. Two other crew members who were onboard the helicopter reportedly had no idea the rotary aircraft was headed to Ukraine. There are now conflicting reports as to their fate – with one suggestion they were “liquidated” (killed) while other accounts report they surrendered and are now prisoners of war (POWs).
No Comment From Russia on Mi-8
The social media post did suggest the Mi-8 vanished “a couple of weeks ago,” and made the claim that the crew had “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 Flightbomber Telegram channel reported on Wednesday. It added that the crew was “brutally worked over,” and requested, “I ask all normal people, until the opposite is proven, don’t spread any other versions, because there cannot be any other versions.”
As official stories go, a trained flight crew “accidentally” landing in hostile territory isn’t much better than the defection! The Poltava air base where the helicopter was headed is approximately 300 km (186 miles) from the front line, and that makes any claims of disorientation seem highly dubious!
Not a Snap Decision
The defection to Ukraine was part of a six-month special operation, and the pilot’s family had previously been evacuated to Ukraine.
This may be the first known intentional surrender of the Mi-8 helicopter, which is commonly used as a transport aircraft. In addition, it can be reconfigured as an airborne command post, armed as a gunship, or serve as a reconnaissance platform. It was in the transport configuration when the unnamed pilot opted to deflect to Ukraine.
Last year, Kyiv announced it would pay Russian soldiers who defect and hand over their military equipment. The Mi-8 (NATO reporting name Hip), which first entered service in the late 1960s and remains one of the most-produced helicopters in the world today, costs around $500,000. It is unclear at this point whether the Russian pilot will be compensated.
In May, two Russian Mi-8 helicopters were shot down the same day that a Su-34 and Su-35 fighters were also downed in a single day. It was the greatest loss of Kremlin aircraft on the same day in decades.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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