A Russian military transport plane crashed on Wednesday in a border region near Ukraine, and Moscow accused Kyiv of shooting it down, claiming that all 74 people aboard, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, were killed in the incident. Russia provided no evidence, and Ukraine did not immediately confirm or deny the accusation.
Video footage from the Belgorod border region in Russia showed the plane falling from the sky in a snowy, rural area, resulting in a large explosion upon impact. The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify the details of who was on board or the cause of the crash.
The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Il-76 transport plane was carrying 65 prisoners of war, a crew of six, and three Russian servicemen. They alleged that two missiles were launched from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, bordering Belgorod. The U.S. National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, stated that they had seen the reports but couldn’t confirm them.
A U.S. official, speaking anonymously, mentioned that it was unclear if there were actually Ukrainian prisoners of war on the crashed aircraft. The Ukrainian General Staff of the Armed Forces did not mention the crash in its statement but acknowledged targeting Russian military transport planes suspected of delivering missiles near the border.
The Russian military claimed that the plane was downed during a prisoner swap operation at 11:15 a.m. local time. Ukrainian military intelligence confirmed the planned swap but had no information on the plane’s occupants.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for an international investigation into the incident, emphasizing the need to establish facts given that the crash occurred on Russian territory.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, asserting confidence in Moscow’s allegations. However, a scheduled meeting was already in place, and the emergency session was expected to take place the following day.
Both Russia and Ukraine have engaged in conflicting accusations throughout the 700-day war, making it challenging to establish facts due to the constraints of the war zone and information control on both sides. The article also highlighted previous incidents, including Russia’s losses in its airspace and increased cross-border attacks on the Belgorod region.