Deadly Russian military plane crash: Ukrainian POWs on board, officials say

RIGA, Latvia — A Russian military plane crashed Wednesday in the western Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, killing all 74 people on board, Russian state media said.

Immediately after the 11 a.m. crash, there were conflicting reports about who was on board the Ilyushin Il-76.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it had picked up 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, who were transferred to the region for subsequent transfers. Ukrainian news agency Ukrainska Pravda, citing unnamed military officials, said the plane was carrying missiles.

The Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said in a statement that it was still investigating reports of the crash.

“We urge the media and citizens to refrain from spreading unverified information before official statements or comments from authorized persons or authorities are published,” the organization said. “Emphasizes that the enemies are actively conducting information special operations against Ukraine aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society.”

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, although senior Russian officials said without providing evidence that it was shot down by Ukrainian forces using German or US-made missiles.

None of the claims about who was on board or the cause have been independently verified.

“The Il-76 aircraft crashed on January 24 at 11 a.m. in the Belgorod region while on a scheduled flight,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. “It was carrying 65 captured servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for transfer to the Belgorod region, plus six crew members and three escorts.”

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Andriy Kartabolov, chairman of the Security Committee of the lower house of the Russian Parliament, is an official. A second plane narrowly escaped similar disaster, he said.

“The second Il-76 plane continued to carry 80 prisoners of war. It was diverted in time,” Kartabolov said.

“Ukraine's leadership was well aware of the upcoming transfer; they were informed about how the prisoners would be released,” Kartabolov added. “But the Il-76 aircraft was shot down by three missiles from a Patriot or German-made Iris-T anti-aircraft missile system.”

The speaker of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said lawmakers would hold their American and German counterparts accountable.

“The defenseless pilots of our military transport aircraft carrying out a humanitarian mission were shot down using American and German missiles,” Volodin said during the parliamentary session. “The lawmakers of these countries need to realize their responsibility and be on the front lines.”

Serhiy Morkunov in Lisbon contributed to this report.

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