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RFE/RL Schemes project identifies crew members’ names of crashed IL-76, confirms 3 deaths

by Kateryna Denisova January 24, 2024 9:59 PM 2 min read
Illustrative photo of an Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft at the Chkalovsky Military Airport outside Moscow, Russia, on March 22, 2020. (Russian Ministry of Defense / Alexey Ereshko / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's investigation project Schemes identified the names of the crew members of the Russian Il-76 transport plane that crashed in Russia's Belgorod Oblast on Jan. 24 that was allegedly carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed earlier on Jan. 24 that 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) were aboard the plane on its way for a prisoner exchange, as well as six crew members and three accompanying people. Ukraine has not confirmed whether Ukrainian POWs were on the plane.

Schemes journalists said they had obtained a list of the six-person crew that was supposed to accompany the flight. It included 36-year-old commander Stanislav Bezzubikin, 38-year-old flight engineer Andrey Piluyev, and the ship's navigator Alexei Vysokin.

According to Schemes, the deaths of Bezzubkin and Piluyev were confirmed by their wives, while Vysokin's death was confirmed to journalists by his cousin.

Schemes journalists also identified flight radioman Igor Sablinsky as a member of the IL-76 crew.

In addition, an airborne equipment flight engineer, Serhiy Zhitenyov, was listed as one of the crew members, but it has not yet been possible to confirm his death, Schemes reported.

According to leaks from Russian databases, all five crew members serve in the 117th Military Transport Aviation Regiment, which maintains military vehicles that transport special cargo for the material support of the Russian army, Schemes journalists said.

In March 2022, Ukraine's military intelligence agency (HUR) included their names in a list of soldiers of this regiment "who deliver weapons and ammunition to kill Ukrainian civilians."

Following the crash on Jan. 24, Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne analyzed a list that Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan shared with the names of the Ukrainian POWs allegedly killed in the crash, confirming that the list of names are in fact Ukrainian soldiers currently held by Russia.

Suspilne could not confirm, however, that those on the list were actually on the plane when it crashed, nor that they were potentially part of a prisoner exchange.

White House cannot confirm claims that Ukrainian POWs were in Belgorod Oblast plane crash
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that the White House was aware of the reports and was “obviously doing the best we can to try to get more clarity and more information on it.”
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