Validated UGC video via The Associated Press In this handout photo taken from validated UGC video, flames are seen rising from the scene of a plane crash in a residential area in Belgorod, Russia.

Russia says a plane with Ukrainian POWs crashes, killing all aboard, and accuses Kyiv of downing it

Russian transport plane crashes near Ukraine with 65 Ukrainian POWs on board

By The Associated Press

MOSCOW – A Russian military transport plane crashed Wednesday in a border region near Ukraine, and Moscow accused Kyiv of shooting it down, saying all 74 people aboard were killed, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war headed for a swap. Russia offered no evidence and Ukraine did not immediately confirm or deny it.

Video of the crash on social media from the Belgorod border region of Russia 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.

The Associated Press could not confirm who was aboard or other details on what brought the plane down. Throughout the 700-day war, Russia and Ukraine have traded conflicting accusations, and establishing the facts has often been difficult, both because of the constraints of a war zone and because each side tightly controls information.

In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said the Il-76 transport plane was carrying 65 POWs, a crew of six and three Russian servicemen. It said Russian radar registered the launch of two missiles from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that borders Belgorod.

“We’ve seen the reports, but we’re not in any position to confirm them,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Separately, a U.S. official said it’s not clear that there were actually Ukrainian POWs aboard the aircraft that crashed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details that have not been announced publicly.

Hours after the crash, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine made no mention of the crash in a statement. But it added that Ukraine targets Russian military transport planes believed to be delivering missiles, especially near the border.

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