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Spanish media confirms identity of murdered Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk February 20, 2024 1:50 PM 2 min read
Maksim Kuzminov, the Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine, in Kyiv on Sept. 5, 2023. (Photo: Ukrinform)
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Sources familiar with the investigation confirmed to the Spanish news agency EFE on Feb. 19 that Maksim Kuzminov, a Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine, was killed in Spain on Feb. 13.  

Kuzminov's death in Spain was first reported on Feb. 19 by Ukrainska Pravda and other Ukrainian media outlets, citing the press service of Ukraine's military intelligence.

Kuzminov made headlines in August 2023 after he landed a fully intact Mi-8 helicopter in Ukraine and gave himself up to authorities. Andrii Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's military intelligence, later said that Kuzminov would receive the hryvnia equivalent of $500,000 (approximately Hr 18.48 million) as a reward for defecting with the helicopter.

Kuzminov said that he contacted the Ukrainian side himself, and was told he would receive security for himself and his family, payments, and new documents from Ukraine if he defected.

Kuzminov said his parents supported his plans to defect and joined him in Ukraine.

Ukrainska Pravda said on Feb. 19, citing sources from Ukraine's military intelligence, that Kuzminov had moved to Spain.

Local Spanish media originally reported that an unnamed 33-year-old Ukrainian man was killed in the city of Villajoyosa on Feb. 14.

EFE reported that there was some initial confusion over Kuzminov's identity, as the documentation associated with the dead body found on Feb. 13 did not correspond with Kuzminov's age or country of origin. Spanish authorities later told the BBC that Kuzminov may have been living under a false identity.  

Sources close to the investigation later confirmed to EFE that the man, shot six times in a garage in Villajoyosa, was Kuzminov.

The Spanish government has yet to publicly speak about Kuzminov's death.

Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, commented on Kuzminov's death on Feb. 20, saying that "traitor and criminal was a moral corpse," the Russian state-run media outlet TASS reported.

Russian pilot who transferred to Ukraine calls on Russians to follow his example
Maksim Kuzminov, the 28-year-old Russian pilot of the Mi-8 helicopter who surrendered to Ukraine after landing in a Ukrainian airfield on Aug. 23, called on other Russian pilots to follow his example.
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