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A helicopter crash near Kyiv kills at least 12, including Ukraine's interior minister

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A helicopter crashed near Kyiv, Ukraine, this morning. The dead include that country's interior minister. And this, of course, in the middle of a war. NPR's Lauren Migaki has been to the crash site and is on the line. Hi there, Lauren.

LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What happened?

MIGAKI: Yeah, so Ukraine's interior minister and several of his colleagues were on board a helicopter on their way to one of the conflict areas here in the country. So they took off, and around 8 a.m., the helicopter crashed into a suburb of Kyiv onto a kindergarten. People who I talked to who are on the scene stressed that it was a really foggy morning. They don't know if that played into it. But there's a lot of conflicting figures now from different government officials as to how many people on the ground were killed, including how many children from the nursery. And we know that many are in the hospital, but we've heard different reports of how many.

INSKEEP: What did you see when you got there?

MIGAKI: Yeah, so we arrived a little while after the crash, but you could still smell the smoke in the air. Local people were dropping off stuffed animals and carnations. Everyone in the area was kind of teary eyed. It happened in a really quiet residential area, a suburb called Brovary, where there's a lot of tall apartment buildings. It's clearly an area where a lot of families live. Colorful playgrounds kind of dot the landscape. And the kindergarten's a really small two-story building, and half of it is just totally destroyed. Witnesses I spoke to say that when the helicopter hit the building, a huge fire broke out. The flames were reaching as high as the 12-story buildings around it.

And so standing there was Nina Mattoon (ph), who was with her two grandchildren. They were watching as crews were working to put out the fire and take care of the rubble at the school. Her grandson, Vova (ph), is 5, and he actually attends that school.

NINA MATTOON: (Non-English language spoken).

MIGAKI: So she says he was sick yesterday, and so today they decided to keep him home with her. And if he wasn't sick, he would have been at the school. Her grandkids, who all live near her, lived under Russian occupation elsewhere in the country, and she says this morning's explosion has really unsettled them.

MATTOON: (Non-English language spoken).

MIGAKI: Yeah, and so she started crying there and saying that she just feels great sorrow because she's heard from her friends that, you know, children died there.

INSKEEP: The timeline becomes of intense interest here. You said this was about 8 o'clock in the morning. Is it your understanding that there would, in fact, have been students in the building at that particular hour?

MIGAKI: Yeah, that's what officials have said. And while they've gone back and forth on the numbers of how many children have died, there are many, many who have been hospitalized.

INSKEEP: Who was the interior minister who was on board that helicopter?

MIGAKI: Yeah, so he's Denys Monastyrskyi. He was the interior minister. He oversaw Ukraine's law enforcement, the police force, national guard, state emergency services - pretty big stuff for a country at war. He was a lawyer. He spent his life working in government. He was a parliamentarian before he took the role of minister of the interior in 2021. At the time, he told reporters it was the most difficult decision in his life, and he highlighted all the sacrifices he made to take on such a role. I should note he was 42 years old, and he leaves behind a wife and two sons. And in the interim, the head of the police will step into this role.

INSKEEP: I guess we should underline one more thing. In the United States, the secretary of the interior has things - has authority over things like public lands. But in most countries - I presume in Ukraine - the interior minister is someone who oversees security services, services that would be vital in times of war.

MIGAKI: Yeah, that's right, including customs and border and things like that.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Migaki in Kyiv, thanks so much.

MIGAKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Lauren Migaki is a senior producer with NPR's education desk. She helps tell stories about teacher strikes, college access and a new high school for young men in Washington D.C. She also produces and hosts NPR's podcast about the Student Podcast Challenge.