Russian plane carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war crashes near border, Moscow says

Russia said the Ukrainian soldiers were being transported for an exchange.

January 24, 2024, 4:13 PM

LONDON and KYIV -- A Russian military aircraft carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war was shot down in western Russia's Belgorod region on Wednesday, Russian officials said.

The "captured" Ukrainian soldiers were being transported to the Belgorod region, located along Russia's border with Ukraine, as part of an "exchange," according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense. Six crew members and three Russian military personnel were also aboard the Il-76.

"The crew and all passengers of the plane were killed," the Russian Ministry of Defense said.

A Russian military transport plane crashes near Yablonovo, Belgorod region, Russia, Jan. 24, 2024, in this screen grab from a social media video obtained by Reuters.
Video Obtained By Reuters/via Reuters

The Russian Ministry of Defense accused the Ukrainian military of shooting down the plane "using an anti-aircraft missile system" that was launched across the border from eastern Ukraine's Kharkiv region.

Ukrainian military intelligence did not deny it shot down the plane, but said it was not informed of the need to ensure the security of the airspace in the vicinity of Belgorod, during a specific time period, as has apparently happened during previous prisoner swaps.

Ukraine said the incident may amount to "deliberate actions" by Russia aimed at endangering the lives and safety of prisoners.

It also accused Russia of planned and deliberate actions to destabilize the situation in Ukraine and weaken international support for Kyiv.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's military intelligence, confirmed to ABC News that a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia was planned for Wednesday but is "not happening now." The information from Russia about Ukrainian prisoners of war being on board the downed plane is being verified, according to Yusov.

Traffic police officers block off a road near the crash site of the Russian Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane outside the village of Yablonovo in the Belgorod region, Russia, Jan. 24, 2024.

A Ukrainian soldier who was released in a prisoner swap earlier this month told ABC News he and others were transported to Belgorod via plane within Russia and then taken by bus to the location where the exchange took place.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War and the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights all issued statements Wednesday saying they are "gathering and analyzing information" about what happened while warning that "Russia continues information attacks against Ukraine."

The Ilyushin Il-76 is a Soviet-era military transport aircraft designed to deliver heavy equipment, weapons and cargo.

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