Wednesday morning in the town of Brovary, 12 miles northeast of Kyiv, was unseasonably warm with drizzle and a thick fog replacing the melting snow that had fallen in recent days.
Air raid sirens hadn’t sounded since the weekend, and by the standards of a city in war-torn Ukraine, everything was quiet and calm.
Then, just after 8 am, an explosion thundered through the quiet suburb.
“No-one had a clue what had happened,” 18-year-old Viktor Komisarov told Kyiv Post shortly after the incident. “We thought it was some kind of Russian missile attack, until we noticed a helicopter propeller at the entrance, still burning.”
Viktor Komisarov lives near the kindergarten in Brovary. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
A helicopter carrying nine people, including Ukraine’s interior minister, had just crashed next to a kindergarten, killing everyone on board and five more people on the ground.
Just meters from the crash site, pensioner Liudmyla was making coffee in her kitchen when she heard the massive explosion.
“It was so loud my ears rang, and then I couldn’t hear anything. I looked through the window and saw some kind of fire.”
Within seconds of the explosion, Brovary’s residents headed towards the danger to save those inside.
“A group of teenagers was passing by when the explosion occurred, and they ran to the kindergarten,” Liudmyla said.
The helicopter’s propeller fell near the entrance to an apartment block in Brovary, Kyiv Region, on Jan. 18. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina
Two of those teenagers were Komisarov and 16-year-old Hlib Kasyan. “There was panic, children were screaming, and the helicopter that crashed was on fire,” Kasyan told Kyiv Post.
“Everything was covered in smoke. Nothing was visible. The children were crying and screaming.”
As the flames spread in the kindergarten, teachers frantically passed as many children as they could over the fence to those who had raced there to help. Some of the children were in such a state of shock that they couldn’t remember their own names.
“We grabbed three children, a boy and two girls,” Kasyan said.
“We provided first aid to the children. One girl had bruises and cuts on her face. We treated the wounds, checked for any fractures, and checked the children’s hearing.”
Hlib Kasyan resides near the kindergarten in Brovary, Kyiv Region. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
Nearby, people were taking those injured in the explosion into their homes. Eighteen-year-old Andriy Dotsenko and his parents took in two girls and one boy who had “minor injuries.”
A teacher later came to collect the girls but the boy stayed and they waited for his parents.
“We entertained him,” Dotsenko told Kyiv Post. “Then his tearful mother ran into the apartment and thanked us. She was so happy.”
Rescuers at work in the kindergarten in Brovary, Kyiv Region, Jan. 18. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
Back at the school, Komisarov described how he saw one of the teachers from the kindergarten "running out into the yard" suffering from what he belives was a bad concussion.
"We took her to a nearby school to get help," he said. "It looked like the teacher did not understand what was happening.
"She was shaking and had a fever, so we made her some tea and went back to look for the children."
Hlib Kasyan showing the photo he took of the kindergarten in Brovary. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
The residents of Brovary continued helping even after rescue services arrived. The street leading to the kindergarten was blocked by cars so Komisarov and his friends jumped into action.
“We physically cleared a path for them and pushed away the parked cars that rescuers were unable to get past. I was with four friends, but we didn’t have enough strength, so we asked strangers passing by to help.”
Komisarov was deeply shaken by what he saw: “We saw injured children and an ambulance took them away. There was also another man there who’d been burned, 35 to 40 years old, and without a leg. I think he was a janitor.”
Andriy Dotsenko lives close to the kindergarten in Brovary. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
Speaking during his daily address on Wednesday evening, President Zelensky confirmed that 14 people had died in the tragedy, including one child, and 11 more were injured.
He also praised those who helped with the rescue, singling out Kastianov and Dotsenko. “I am grateful to Hlib and Andriy, the guys who also maintained their self-control and helped,” he said.
Rescuers working at the kindergarten in Brovary, Kyiv Region on Jan. 18. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash which claimed the lives of interior minister Denys Monastyrsky, his deputy, Yevhen Yenin, State Secretary Yuriy Lubkovych and others.
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