All 65 onboard Ukrainian prisoners of war killed after a Russian military plane crashes in the Belgorod region.
A military transport plane that Russia said was carrying 74 people, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war to be swapped, crashed Wednesday in a border area near Ukraine. All aboard were killed, according to a regional Russian governor.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the crash in the Belgorod region.
Ukrainian officials cautioned against sharing unverified information.
Video of the crash posted on social media showed a plane falling from the sky in a snowy, rural area, and a massive ball of fire erupting where it apparently hit the ground.
Firefighters, ambulances, and police rushed to the site in the Korochansky district of Belgorod, state news agency Tass reported, citing a local emergency services official.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the POWs were being transported to the region for a prisoner exchange.
Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov didn’t specify who was on the plane.
Two senior Russian lawmakers alleged, without providing evidence, that the plane was brought down by missiles launched by Ukrainian forces.
Russia has largely ensured its air dominance during the war, which marked its 700th day on Wednesday, against Ukraine’s fleet of Soviet-era warplanes.
But the Russian air force has suffered a string of crashes that some observers have attributed to a higher number of flights amid the fighting in Ukraine.
At the same time, Kyiv has boasted recently about shooting down two Russian command and control planes, which would be a major feat for Ukraine if true. Cross-border attacks on Russia’s Belgorod region also have been ramped up lately, with the deadliest one killing 21 people in late December.
Shortly before the crash, Gladkov said on his Telegram channel that a “missile alert” had been triggered in the region and warned residents to take shelter.
Ukraine’s Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said it was looking into the crash but did not immediately provide any information.
Instead, it cautioned against sharing “unverified information.”
“We emphasize that the enemy is actively conducting information special operations against Ukraine aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society,” it said in a statement on Telegram.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a special military commission was on the way to the crash site. In addition to the POWs, the Il-76 cargo plane was carrying three people accompanying them and a crew of six, the ministry said.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on his call with reporters that he could not comment on the crash because he did not have enough information about it.