The 28-year-old Russian helicopter pilot who reportedly defected to Ukraine last month is encouraging other Moscow fighters to do the same, according to an interview released by the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, saying they “will not regret it at all.”
Maskym Kuzminov, whom Ukraine officials identified as the captain of the Russian Mi-8AMTSh helicopter that landed at a military air base in Kharkiv in August, spoke publicly about his decision to defect from the Russian Air Force in the documentary Downed Russian Pilots, which was published to YouTube on Sunday and aired on Ukrainian television.
Newsweek was unable to independently verify Kuzminov’s identity. A Telegram channel associated with independent Russian news outlet The Project said it confirmed the pilot’s identity through social media.
Ukrainian Chief of Defense Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov previously said that a deal was reached with Kuzminov after Kyiv promised to get the pilot’s family safely out of Russia. The fighter captain was reportedly stationed in the eastern Primorye region as part of Russia’s 319th separate helicopter regiment and said that he contacted Ukraine intelligence himself.
“I contacted representatives of the intelligence of Ukraine, explained my situation,” Kuzminov said, according to a section of his interview that was translated to English by Ukraine intelligence. “I was offered security guarantees, new documents, monetary compensation, a reward. We discussed the details and started planning my flight directly.”
The defection operation, which was kept under the code name “Synytsia,” took roughly six months to complete, according to the documentary. Kuzminov successfully traveled across the Ukrainian border with two other unsuspecting crew members on board the Mi-8, but Kyiv officials said that both individuals were killed after they attempted to escape once the helicopter had landed.
Russian propaganda outlets had claimed in late August that one of Moscow’s helicopter pilots had gotten lost and mistakenly landed on a Ukrainian airfield, according to a report by security analyst and journalist Jimmy Rushton. Kuzminov, however, rejected the allegations.
Kuzminov said during his interview that he “flew at extremely low altitude in radio silence mode” in order to cross into Ukraine without being detected.
“No one knew what was wrong with me,” he added. “Apparently, no one understood what happened for 3-4 days.”
“What is happening now is simply genocide of the Ukrainian people: both Ukrainian and Russian,” the pilot continued, adding during his interview, “No one wants this war.”
Kuzminov also called on his fellow Russian pilots to follow his lead.
“You will not regret it at all,” he said. “You will simply discover a world of colors. And remember: you just don’t know a lot, you haven’t seen how other people live. When you really discover something, you will fundamentally change your opinion.”
Newsweek reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry via email for comment.