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The Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with an Mi-8 helicopter was shot to death in Spain

Russian Pilot Maksym Kuzminov during press conference with Ukrainian press on September 5, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Russian Pilot Maksym Kuzminov during press conference with Ukrainian press in Kyiv, Ukraine.Vitalii Nosach/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images
  • Maksym Kuzminov, a Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine last year, was found shot dead in Spain.

  • Kuzminov had urged other Russians to defect and said they would be set for life.

  • Spanish media reported he was living in Spain with a Ukrainian passport under an alternative name.

The Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with a Mi-8 helicopter in August was found shot to death in Spain last week, according to media reports in Ukraine and Spain.

A spokesperson for Ukraine's military intelligence confirmed the death of Maksym Kuzminov to the Kyiv Post but did not provide details. According to the outlet, Russian media reported Kuzminov had been found dead with at least five bullet wounds in an underground parking lot in southern Spain, near Alicante.

EFE, a Spanish news agency, reported that Kuzminov's body was found on February 13 and that he had been living in Spain with a Ukrainian passport and an alternative name, according to Reuters. Spanish police could not confirm to the outlet that the body found was that of Kuzminov, but an unnamed police source said the victim may have lived under a fake name.

Reuters said La Informacion, a Spanish newspaper, reported two suspects left the scene in a vehicle that was later found burned. Police initially thought the death may have been gang-related, The Guardian reported.

Special Operation 'Titmouse'

Kuzminov, a former captain in Russia's 319th separate helicopter regiment, defected to Ukraine in August when he landed a Russian Mi-8 AMTSh on a Ukrainian air base in Kharkiv.

Ukrainian officials at the time said the defection was part of a six-month special operation called "Titmouse," in which the pilot's family had been moved from Russia to Ukraine before the defection.

Kuzminov also had two other crew members on board who were shocked when they realized they were landing in Ukraine. Ukrainian military officials said they would not surrender and were "eliminated."

Kuzminov was publicly identified as the pilot by Ukraine Defense Intelligence in September. At the time, he said he defected because he did not want to commit war crimes.

"What is happening now is simply genocide of the Ukrainian people: both Ukrainian and Russian," he said in an interview released by Ukraine Defense Intelligence. "The motivation for my action was to not contribute to these crimes. Ukraine will unequivocally win this war simply because the people are very united."

Ukrainian officials said Kuzminov, who had also brought stolen fighter jet parts with him when he defected, would be rewarded $500,000, per a Ukrainian law incentivizing Russian soldiers to hand over military equipment. The law stipulated half a million as the reward for a combat helicopter, while a combat aircraft would earn a Russian soldier $1,000,000.

Officials said Kuzminov was also providing Ukraine with key Russian aviation intelligence.

During the September interview, Kuzminov, 28 at the time, encouraged other Russian soldiers to follow his lead and defect to Ukraine, promising they would be set for life.

"You'll be provided for, for the rest of your lives. You will be offered a job everywhere, no matter what you do," he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider