Russia: military plane crashes; Russian Defense Ministry says it was transporting 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, blames kyiv

Who was on board the Russian military transport plane Il-76, which crashed on Wednesday January 24 morning in the Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine? Moscow accuses kyiv of having shot down the aircraft, killing its 74 occupants including, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were to be exchanged

Russia: military plane crashes; Russian Defense Ministry says it was transporting 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, blames kyiv

Who was on board the Russian military transport plane Il-76, which crashed on Wednesday January 24 morning in the Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine? Moscow accuses kyiv of having shot down the aircraft, killing its 74 occupants including, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were to be exchanged.

Ukraine did not respond directly to these claims, but military intelligence (GUR) said it “does not have reliable information” about the passengers of the downed Il-76. The GUR confirmed that a prisoner exchange was “planned” but ultimately did not take place.

According to Moscow, the Ukrainian army “knew” that the Russians would fly the prisoners to Belgorod and then to a meeting point on the border. Ukrainian intelligence, on the contrary, assured that kyiv had “not been informed” of the need to secure the airspace in the area. Ukraine did not know “the number of vehicles, the route and the mode of transport of the prisoners,” he said, accusing Moscow of having deliberately “put them in danger” in this case.

The Russian army, for its part, maintains that Ukrainian forces launched “two missiles” from “an anti-aircraft defense system” to shoot down the plane and then be able to “blame Russia”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov promised to “clarify” the circumstances of the crash, when Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin assured that “American and German missiles” had been used to bring down the plane.

“Don’t jump to conclusions.”

The Ukrainian army, in a statement published a few hours after the crash and without mentioning it directly, promised to continue to “destroy transport aircraft and control the airspace (...) including in the Belgorod area -Kharkiv.”

Earlier, Ukraine's human rights commissioner, Dmytro Loubinets, who is in charge of prisoner exchange issues, called "not to draw hasty conclusions" from the crash of the Il-76 plane.

Images published on social networks showed a device falling almost steeply, before a large explosion on the ground, accompanied by flames and black smoke.

The Belgorod region is very regularly targeted by Ukrainian missile and drone fire due to its proximity to the border and in response to the multiple Russian bombings of Ukraine.

More than 8,000 Ukrainians, including more than 1,600 civilians, are currently in Russian captivity, according to kyiv.

In July 2022, Russians and Ukrainians had already accused each other of the deadly bombing of a prison housing Ukrainian prisoners in Olenivka, a village in eastern Ukraine occupied by Russia.

Russia has also experienced several air disasters involving army aircraft since the start of its assault on Ukraine and Ukraine claimed last week to have shot down two Russian planes.