(RepublicanJournal.org) – A Russian military transport plane that was reportedly carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war crashed on its way to the Belgorod region that borders the two countries. Russia claims enemy fire took down the Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft despite the knowledge that a prisoner swap would be taking place. Ukrainian officials haven’t commented on the incident except to warn others not to accept “unverified information.”
The crash occurred at roughly 11 a.m. local time about 44 miles northeast of Belgorod. It happened ahead of a prisoner exchange set to take place in the border region on January 24. Details on the passengers and the cause of the tragedy have been scarce, with little verified intelligence driving the headlines.
Russian leaders insist radar picked up Ukraine’s military shooting two missiles directly at the aircraft. They also allege that their enemy was aware of the flight, which was scheduled, and officials should have known the 65 prisoners of war would be onboard. All of them reportedly died in the explosion. The airplane’s crew of six and three Russian military members reportedly perished as well.
Some Ukrainian news outlets initially published similar accounts, according to BBC News, but they were later deleted. The country’s official response is that it is still investigating, with the added warning that the Kremlin would likely be spreading disinformation on the matter.
Russian officials alleged that there may actually have been two planes in the air and that the Ukrainian prisoners were in the second craft, which changed course in response to the attack. Regardless of the details, the exchange is no longer taking place — and all future swaps might now be off the table.
Russia currently has about 8,000 Ukrainian prisoners, some of whom are civilians. Tens of thousands more people have been reported missing since the war began. The two countries have exchanged their captives multiple times in the past, with the largest seeing 248 Russians and 230 Ukrainians released in early January 2024.
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