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65 Ukrainian POWs killed in plane crash: What we know so far

The Russian IL-76 heavy transport plane was carrying 65 captured Ukrainian military personnel when it crashed in Belgorod Region some 90km (55 miles) from the Ukrainian border. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed that the aircraft was brought down by Kiev’s forces.

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Here is what we know so far about what happened.

The plane crash On Wednesday at 11:15 Moscow time, reports came in that an IL-76 military transport plane carrying Ukrainian POWs had crashed and exploded in a field near the village of Yablonovo in the Korochansky district of Belgorod Region, which neighbors Ukraine.

Several people captured footage of the crash and shared videos of the incident on social media.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the plane was flying from the Chkalovsky airfield to Belgorod and was transporting the Ukrainian personnel for a prisoner swap with Kiev. Aside from the POWs, there were also six crew members and three accompanying personnel.

All those on board the aircraft were killed in the crash, according to the governor of Belgorod Region, Vyacheslav Gladkov. However, the crash did not cause any damage to structures or people on the ground, landing five to six kilometers from the nearest village.

According to Russian officials, another plane carrying an additional 80 Ukrainian POWs was also in the air at the time of the incident. After the first plane crashed, the second aircraft was diverted, according to MP Andrey Kartapolov.

What was the cause? Following the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry released a statement accusing Kiev’s forces of shooting down the plane using an anti-aircraft missile system. The ministry claimed that Russia’s Aerospace Forces radars recorded the launch of two Ukrainian missiles from the village of Liptsy in Kharkov Region.

The ministry has also stated that the Ukrainian side was informed of the flight ahead of time and was aware that it was carrying POWs, noting that the prisoner exchange was supposed to take place later in the afternoon at the Kolotilovka checkpoint.

Ukrainian media reports Shortly after the crash, the Ukrainian media outlet Ukrainskaya Pravda released a report claiming that it had received confirmation from Kiev’s military that the its forces had shot the plane down and that it had been told that the aircraft was believed to be carrying S-300 missiles.

Shortly after, however, the outlet redacted that statement, stating only that Kiev had confirmed that it was aware of the plane crash but could not confirm it was carrying Ukrainian POWs.

Meanwhile, other Western media outlets such as US-state funded Radio Liberty have confirmed from sources within the Kiev government that a prisoner exchange with Russia was indeed scheduled for Wednesday, but no further comments have been provided.

Kiev’s intelligence A representative of the Ukrainian Intelligence Service, Andrey Yusov, has also confirmed the scheduled prisoner exchange. 

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for matters regarding prisoners of war has refused to confirm the planned swap, only stating that it was “collecting and analyzing all the necessary information” while urging the media and its citizens to refrain from speculating on the incident. The body also noted that Russia is “actively carrying out special information operations” aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society.

Russia’s reaction The head of Russia’s State Duma Defense Committee, Andrey Kartapolov, has suggested that the IL-76 was shot down using Western Patriot or Iris-T air defense missiles. He has also proposed calling off any further prisoner swap negotiations with Kiev and insisted that Ukraine should officially be branded a terrorist state and its government a terrorist cell.

State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin has called on Russian lawmakers to make a formal address to the US and Germany, urging them to stop actively supporting the “Nazi regime” in Kiev, which has stooped to killing its own POWs.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that Kiev had once again “shown its true colors” by committing this “terrorist act” against its own citizens in an attempt to slander Moscow’s forces.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that this act of “mindless barbarism” puts into question the possibility of reaching future agreements with Kiev, noting that “there is no doubt” that the Ukrainian authorities will eventually violate any guarantees that they give.

The ministry also stressed that the regime of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, which was propped up by the US and its NATO allies, has once again proven to be a threat not only to Russia, but to “Ukraine itself, its citizens and the whole world.”

Former Russian President and current deputy chairman of the National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that the downing of the IL-76 may have been the result of internal political turmoil between “neo-Nazi elites in Kiev.” He suggested that “it’ll be even worse in the future” as the Ukrainian government will continue slaughtering its own troops and POWs and bombing its own cities to protect its power and money.

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