Russia slams Ukraine for ‘terrorist act’ after plane crash kills 74

According to Russian statement, the plane carried Ukrainian POWs that were going to be released in a prisoner exchange.

A Russian military transport plane with 65 Ukrainian prisoners on board was shot down by Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 74 people in total, Russia said. It denounced the incident as a terrorist act and a violation of a prisoner exchange agreement.

The plane, an Ilyushin Il-76, was flying near the Russian city of Belgorod close to the Ukrainian border, the Russian defence ministry said. It said six Russian crew members and three Russian soldiers were also on board.

The ministry said Ukraine knew that the plane was carrying Ukrainian servicemen to be swapped at the Belgorod airfield, as per a previous deal. The exchange was supposed to happen later that day at the Kolotilovka checkpoint on the border, it said.

“The Ukrainian leadership showed its true face by committing this terrorist act. It disregarded the lives of its own citizens,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Russian foreign ministry also condemned the shooting down as “a barbaric act”.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said he needed more time to comment. “Time is needed to clarify all the data,” he told Reuters.

Reuters verified a video on the Telegram app by Baza, a channel linked to Russian security services, that showed a large aircraft crashing near the village of Yablonovo in the Belgorod region and bursting into flames.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence, told Radio Svoboda that a prisoner swap had been scheduled for Wednesday, but added: “It’s not taking place at the moment.”

The Ukrainian defence ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. It was quoted by Interfax-Ukraine as saying it had no reliable information yet, but would share it when it did.

Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian media outlet, initially reported that the plane was shot down because it had S-300 missiles on board, citing military sources. It later corrected the report, saying that was not confirmed by other sources.

A Russian parliamentarian and retired general, Andrei Kartapolov, told the SHOT outlet on TV that Ukrainian missile operators could not have mistaken the transport plane for a military target.

He said Ukraine did it on purpose to disrupt the prisoner exchange, and that another Russian Il-76 plane with about 80 Ukrainian prisoners on board had turned back.

The governor of Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said the plane crash killed all 74 people on board and that it occurred in the Korochansky district, northeast of Belgorod. He said the authorities and emergency services were at the site.

The Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, has been frequently attacked by Ukraine in recent months, including a missile strike in December that killed 25 people.

The chairman of the State Duma, the lower house of Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said the house would appeal to the U.S. Congress and the German parliament “so their lawmakers at last can see clearly who they are financing, who they are helping.”

He said Ukraine killed its own soldiers in the air, while their families were waiting for them. He said Ukraine shot down the unarmed pilots on a humanitarian mission, using American and German rockets.

The Il-76 is a military transport aircraft that can carry troops, cargo, military equipment and weapons. It usually has a crew of five, and can carry up to 90 passengers.

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