Russia just unwillingly donated to Ukraine an up-armored Mil Mi-8 transport helicopter.

According to Ukrainian Pravda and other media in Ukraine, Ukrainian intelligence agents spent six months secretly convincing the Russian pilot of a 337th Separate Helicopter Regiment Mi-8AMTSh armed assault helicopter to deviate from the filed flight plan and land his ‘copter at Poltava air base, 80 miles from the Russian border in northeastern Ukraine.

The pilot, whose family the Ukrainians already had sneaked out of Russia, defected. The other two crew of the Mi-8 reportedly were killed, apparently in a struggle after they realized they had landed in Ukraine.

Russian propagandists claimed the helicopter landed at Poltava as a result of a navigational error. But Ukrainian intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov confirmed the true story on Ukrainian television. Considering the density of air-defenses along the Mi-8’s flight path through northeastern Ukraine, the defection must have required very careful planning.

Assuming the Ukrainian air force or army takes ownership of the defector’s Mi-8, the rotorcraft will be the first of its variant in the Ukrainian inventory. Kyiv’s air force and army inherited scores of older Mi-8s from the Soviet Union and have acquired no fewer than 45 Mi-8s and similar Mi-17s from their foreign allies in the 19 months since Russia widened its war on Ukraine.

The 2000s-vintage Mi-8AMTSh will, along with American-supplied Mi-17V5s formerly destined for the Afghan air force, be among the most sophisticated assault helicopters in Ukrainian service. The armored cockpit of the defector’s Mil should be particularly welcome among Ukrainian crews.

As a bonus, the defectors’ Mi-8 was carrying a load of spare parts for the Sukhoi Su-27 fighter—a type the Ukrainian air force operates.

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