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Russian water-bombers douse fires in Greece

Russian firefighting teams are still awaiting clearance from authorities to begin fighting Greek wildfires. They were invited to help local emergency teams after flames decimated more than 40,000 hectares of land.

Russian aircraft are stationed in Greece at the NATO airbase just outside Athens, ready to fight fires across the country.

A Russian helicopter pilot Sergey Besarab has received a warm welcome. The pilot notes he is the best man for the job.

“After 3 years in Aviation College in Russia I have experience for about 15 years. It’s a v complicated situation for anybody but now I’m here I can extinguish fires,” Sergey Besarab says.

Although, he has yet to prove his worth. The bureaucratic process of sorting insurance has meant his helicopter has not left the ground since arriving on Sunday.

For now, all the crew can do is to prepare for their water-bombing mission.

As you understand we are very tired that’s why we called Russia for help and we appreciate that, we are very grateful and we hope to have a nice co-operation with our Russian friends


An MI-8 water bomber carries a basket underneath so it can scoop up water from the sea or the nearest reservoir. The crew say it’s capable of scooping 5 tones of water in 30 seconds. So it’s an efficient fire fighter.

Fire-fighting might seem like a macho job, but amid the testosterone, there is one Russian lady who is not afraid of the heat. Ekaterina Oreshnikova says it is tough work, but she is treated like one of the lads.

Greek resources have been stretched to the limit, trying to tackle simultaneous fires throughout the country. Meantime, Greek pilots say they are glad Russia’s come to the rescue.

“As you understand we are very tired that’s why we called Russia for help and we appreciate that, we are very grateful and we hope to have a nice co-operation with our Russian friends,” said Lazarus Thanos, a Greek pilot. 

The Russian crews will be based in Greece for at least a month, until the fire season is over. 

In Russia, the period from March to October is also a busy season for firefighters. The country loses up to 20 MLN hectares of forests every year due to wildfires. Many lives are also lost during the summer months. 53 people have died while fighting wildfires in the Moscow region since 1930s.

But there is also time for fun.

“There was only one shop hundreds of kilometres around while we were working in the Khabarovsk region. The only way to check if it was open was to jump there with a parachute. Our guys managed to fly 3 kilometres one way, check the shop, and return to the site of the blaze – our parachutes are very accurate,” Eduard Davydenko, a retired firefighter, recalls.

Nikolay Kovalyov has been fighting wildfires for 30 years. He was born in Siberia and knows the damage a fire can do to a forest. The territory of Russia is so extensive, that even a high tech database has trouble keeping up with all the blazes across the country. But the head of the Avialesookhrana, a state company responsible for monitoring wildfires in Russia, believes the Russian approach is the best.