Russia blames Ukraine for downing plane carrying POWs
Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of intentionally shooting down a Russian military transport plane. The plane was reportedly carrying 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers for a prisoner exchange. A local official confirmed all 74 people aboard were killed.
The Ilyushin Il-76, shot down near Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border, was carrying six Russian crew members and three guards, according to Russian state media.
Andrei Kartapolov, a Russian lawmaker and retired general, claimed on the SHOT TV outlet that Ukraine's actions were a deliberate sabotage of the prisoner exchange. "They knew very well that the plane was en route. The operators of Ukrainian surface-to-air missile systems cannot mistake transport planes for military ones," he said. Kartapolov, with ties to Russia's defense ministry, alleged the plane was hit by missiles of either U.S. or German make.
If confirmed, this incident would be the deadliest inside Russia's internationally recognized borders since the start of the war nearly two years ago.
Ukraine's defense ministry, when asked for comment by Reuters, said it had no reliable information but would share details once available. Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, told Reuters, "Comments will come a little later. Time is needed to clarify all the data."
Ukrainska Pravda initially reported that Kyiv shot down the plane for carrying S-300 missiles but later retracted, citing unconfirmed information.
Reuters verified video footage from the Telegram app, posted by Baza, showing the aircraft crashing near Yablonovo village in Belgorod and erupting into flames.
Moscow and Kyiv have regularly exchanged prisoners since Russia began its military operation in Ukraine in February 2022. Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Belgorod region, confirmed there were no survivors from the crash in Korochansky district.
The region has faced frequent attacks from Ukraine, including a December missile strike that killed 25 people. Vyacheslav Volodin, State Duma chairman, announced plans to appeal to the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag, accusing Ukraine of shooting down its soldiers and Russian pilots on a humanitarian mission.
The Il-76, designed for troop and cargo transport, typically has a crew of five and can carry up to 90 passengers.
In response to a reporter's query, the Kremlin stated it was investigating the situation.