Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka Archives Associated Press Ukrainian soldiers cover the coffin of a comrade killed fighting for the national flag, March 25, 2023.
France Media Agency in Moscow
Russia accused Ukraine of shooting down a Russian military transport plane over the Belgorod border region on Wednesday, killing all on board, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners, according to Moscow.
Ukraine did not respond directly to these claims, but military intelligence (GUR) said it “does not have reliable information” on the passengers of the downed Il-76, while confirming that 'an exchange of prisoners was “planned” but ultimately did not take place.
Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry criticized Ukraine for “shooting down” a Russian military plane that was transporting “Ukrainian servicemen for an exchange”.
According to Moscow, the Ukrainian army “knew” that the Russians would fly the prisoners to Belgorod and then to a meeting point on the border.
Ukrainian intelligence, on the contrary, assured that kyiv had “not been informed” of the need to secure airspace in the area.
Ukraine did not know “the number of vehicles, the route and the mode of transport of the prisoners”, he affirmed, accusing Moscow of having in this case deliberately “put them in danger.”
The Russian army for its part maintains that Ukrainian forces launched “two missiles” from “an anti-aircraft defense system” to shoot down the Il-76 military transport plane and then be able to “ blame Russia.”
The plane crashed near the Russian village of Yablonovo, 45 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.
The 65 Ukrainian prisoners that Moscow says were on board, as well as the crew of six and three Russian soldiers, were “killed”, the Russian army added.
- At least 18 dead and 130 injured in new Russian strikes in Ukraine
- In kyiv, Donald Tusk emphasizes his support for Ukraine in its fight against “evil”
74 passengers according to Moscow
The Ukrainian army, in a statement published a few hours after the crash and without mentioning it directly, promised to continue to “destroy transport aircraft and control the airspace […] including in the Belgorod-Kharkiv area.”
Earlier, Ukraine's human rights commissioner, Dmytro Loubinets, who is in charge of prisoner exchange issues, called “not to draw hasty conclusions” from the crash of the Il-76 plane.
Images published on social networks showed a device falling almost steeply, before a large explosion on the ground, accompanied by flames and black smoke.
“We heard a very loud noise and we went out,” said Maria Mezentseva, a Yablonovo resident who witnessed the crash. “There was a fire.”
The Belgorod region is very regularly targeted by Ukrainian missile and drone fire due to its proximity to the border and in response to the multiple Russian bombings of Ukraine.
Earlier, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov promised to “clarify” the circumstances of the crash, when Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin assured that “American and German missiles” had been used to crash the plane.
More than 8,000 Ukrainians, including more than 1,600 civilians, are currently in Russian captivity, according to kyiv.
In July 2022, Russians and Ukrainians had already accused each other of the deadly bombing of a prison housing Ukrainian prisoners in Olenivka, a village in eastern Ukraine occupied by Russia.
Russia has also experienced several air disasters involving army aircraft since the start of its assault on Ukraine, and Ukraine claimed last week that it had shot down two Russian planes.
Beyond the attacks targeting Russian soil, the main fighting is concentrated on the eastern front in Ukraine, particularly around Avdiïvka, an industrial town in Donbass which is suffering repeated assaults from Russian forces who tirelessly try to encircle it.
“Sabotage and reconnaissance groups” managed to enter Avdiïvka for the first time, according to its mayor Vitaly Barabach contacted by AFP on Wednesday, “but they were pushed back”.< /p>
Still in the Donetsk region and faced with multiple Russian attacks, the regional authorities also announced on Wednesday that they were beginning the evacuation of 72 children from two localities targeted by the bombs.