Russia accuses Ukraine of killing 65 of its own PoWs

January 25, 2024 2:23 pm

Traffic police officers block off a road near the crash site [Source: Reuters]

Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of deliberately shooting down a Russian military transport plane carrying 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers to a prisoner exchange in what it called a barbaric act of terrorism that had killed a total of 74 people.

Ukraine called for full clarification of the circumstances of the incident and did not directly confirm it had shot down the plane.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his evening address said: “It is clear that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, the feelings of their loved ones and the emotions of our society.”

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The Russian defence ministry said six Russian crew members and three Russian soldiers had been on the Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane shot down near the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border.

After a long pause, the Ukrainian military said it would continue to destroy Russian military transport aircraft it believed were carrying missiles with which to strike Ukraine.

It said it had noticed more Russian military transport aircraft landing in Belgorod, something it linked to Russian missile strikes on Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities.

Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk accused Russia of trying to undermine international support for Ukraine.

The Russian defence ministry said the exchange was to have taken place on Wednesday afternoon at the Kolotilovka border checkpoint and Ukraine knew a transport plane carrying captured Ukrainian soldiers was expected at the Belgorod airfield.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and said Russia sought to establish “the reasons behind the Ukrainian criminal act”.

A French spokesperson at the U.N. said the meeting would be held at 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Thursday.

Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency said Ukraine had not been asked to ensure airspace security around Belgorod unlike previous swaps and had not been informed about what means of transport would be used and which routes.

Russia’s defence ministry said radar operators had detected the launch of two Ukrainian missiles at the time of the crash.

If the details are confirmed, it would be the deadliest incident of its kind inside Russia’s internationally recognised borders during the almost two-year-old war.