KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held an emotional meeting Saturday with the families of those who died in a helicopter crash earlier this week.
Zelenskyy spoke with family members of seven of those killed in Wednesday’s crash in the Brovary area of Kyiv, the capital city. The helicopter carrying Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top officials slammed into a kindergarten building in the residential suburb, killing him and about a dozen other people, including a child on the ground.
Monastyrskyi, who oversaw the country’s police and emergency services, was the most senior official killed since Russia invaded Ukraine. His death, along with the rest of his ministry’s leadership and the entire helicopter crew, was the second major calamity in four days to befall Ukraine, after a Russian missile struck an apartment building in the southeastern city of Dnipro, killing dozens of civilians.
At the somber service in Kyiv, Zelenskyy and his wife laid flowers on each of the seven coffins draped in the blue and yellow flags of Ukraine. Zelenskyy then spoke briefly with the families, as a small orchestra played a mournful adagio.
The cause of the crash isn’t known, but Zelenskyy said earlier that it happened because the country is at war. That view was repeated by Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of Ukraine’s parliament, speaking after the service.
“All this would not have happened if not for this terrible and undeclared war which the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine,” Stefanchuk said. “Therefore, we must remember this and not forget these people. Because for Ukraine and Ukrainians, every lost life is a great tragedy.”
Russia’s war in Ukraine, which started nearly a year ago, is “in a state of deadlock,” with Ukrainian forces likely achieving small gains in the northeast, near the town of Kreminna, while Russian forces “have likely been reconstituting” in the eastern town of Soledar after taking it earlier in the week, the U.K. defense ministry said Saturday.
“There is a realistic possibility of local Russian advances” around Bakhmut, an eastern city whose capture would give the Kremlin a long-awaited victory after months of battlefield setbacks, the U.K. ministry said.
Fierce battles for Bakhmut have been raging and three civilians were killed by Russian shelling in that area of the eastern Donetsk region, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office reported on Saturday morning.
In total, five civilians were killed and 13 wounded by Russian shelling over the past 24 hours in Ukraine’s east and south, where active fighting is ongoing, Kyrylo Tymoshenko said in a Telegram post.
Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks in Bakhmut and other parts of the country’s embattled east overnight, the military said in a Facebook update Saturday morning.
A 60-year-old woman died after Russian shells hit her home in the northeastern Kharkiv region, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram update. He added that four other people were wounded in the province.
One woman was also killed in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, where Russian forces launched more than 160 shelling attacks overnight, Gov. Oleksandr Starukh reported in a Telegram post. He said that 21 cities and towns were targeted, and two other civilians sustained injuries.
Russia’s defense ministry said that troops conducted an exercise to repel a mock air attack near Moscow. The ministry said the exercise used S-300 mobile surface-to-air batteries, but didn’t give a precise location for the drill.
The exercise follows reports from social media that Pantsir S-1 anti-aircraft missiles had been mounted on buildings in central Moscow, including the roof of the riverside defense ministry command center. The ministry hasn’t commented.
Russia’s air-defense capability has come under question after drones allegedly from Ukraine attacked two air bases deep inside Russian territory.
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Andrew Meldrum, The Associated Press