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Russia says Ukrainian POWs on crashed Il-76, claim not verified by Ukraine

by Martin Fornusek and Elsa Court January 24, 2024 11:31 AM 4 min read
Illustrative purposes only: A Russian Il-76 military transport plane. (Wikipedia)
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Editor's note: This is a developing story. It was updated after the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the plane's destruction.

A Russian Il-76 transport aircraft crashed in Russia's Belgorod Oblast on Jan. 24 at around 11 a.m. local time, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing the country's Defense Ministry.

Ukrainska Pravda reported, citing its sources in the Ukrainian military, that the plane was carrying S-300 missiles. This information was also provided to Ukrinform by its military sources.

Ukrainska Pravda initially claimed that Ukrainian forces downed the plane, but the information was later retracted. The outlet said that another of its sources did not confirm this claim.

In turn, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that 65 captured military Ukrainian personnel were aboard the plane on its way for a prisoner exchange, as well as six crew members and three accompanying people.

The Kyiv Independent could not verify these claims. The Ukrainian military did not immediately respond to the Kyiv Independent's request for comment.

Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said it is investigating the information about prisoners of war but urged the public to trust only statements by authorized persons.

"We emphasize that the enemy is actively carrying out special information operations directed against Ukraine, which are aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society," the headquarters said on its Telegram channel.

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Ukraine's military intelligence (HUR) spokesperson Andrii Yusov said in a comment for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that a prisoner exchange was indeed planned for Jan. 24 but did not happen.

Russia's claim that there were Ukrainian prisoners on board is being verified, Yusov told the outlet.

Chief Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said that he is "finding out all the details of the event and analyzing the information received."

"I call on media representatives and citizens of Ukraine not to draw premature conclusions and trust only official sources," said Lubinets.

According to Suspilne, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said it could not confirm whether the plane was hit by Ukrainian forces, adding that the information is still being clarified.

Earlier today, videos appeared on local Telegram channels capturing what appears to be a crash of the plane.

"A transport plane crashed in the Korochansky District," said Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, claiming that it fell in a field and "all on board died."

The Ilyushin Il-76 is a heavy transport plane intended to carry military cargo and troops over long distances. Designed to be armed with two guns in a rear turret, the plane can carry a maximum payload of up to 80 metric tons.

A key feature of the Il-76 is that it is able to operate from airports that lack loading devices or unpaved runways, and therefore has often been used to transport humanitarian aid to areas hit by natural disasters.

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The footage of the apparent crash published on Jan. 24, 2024, on the Bletgorod Telegram channel.

According to the monitoring group Belarusian Hajun, Russia has used Il-76 aircraft to deliver S-300 missiles to Belarus. Il-76 can carry over 100 paratroopers in a single mission.

Russia is reported to have lost several of these aircraft since the start of the full-scale war. Il-76 were said to be among the 10 planes destroyed in August 2022 at the Saky airfield in Crimea. Ukraine neither confirmed nor denied its participation.

In August 2023, a Ukrainian special operation destroyed four Russian Il-76 aircraft at a military airfield in the Russian city of Pskov.

Today's crash is the latest in Russia's recent string of aircraft losses. Earlier this month, the Ukrainian military said it had downed a Russian Beriev A-50 military observation plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 plane that operates as an airborne command post.

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