Russia’s Defence Ministry has called the shooting down of a Russian Ilyushin-26 military aircraft over the Belgorod region on Wednesday “a terrorist act” carried out by “the Kiev regime”.
“At 11:15am today, the Ukrainian regime in Kyiv committed a terrorist act by shooting down a Russian military transport aircraft that was on a flight from Chkalovskyy-Belgorod airfield transporting Ukrainian servicemen for exchange,” the ministry said on its Telegram channel.
“On board the aircraft were six crew members, 65 Ukrainian servicemen for exchange and three Russian servicemen accompanying them. The crew and all passengers of the aircraft were killed.”
An ambiguously phrased official statement issued by the Ukrainian Armed Forces appeared to suggest it was admitting it shot down the plane, blaming Russia’s “strategy of terror” and saying it would “continue to take measures to destroy means of delivery … to eliminate the terrorist threat”.
Ukrainian military intelligence issued a second statement on Wednesday evening saying that: “Ukraine was not informed about the number of vehicles, routes or means of prisoner delivery. … This may indicate deliberate actions by Russia aimed at endangering the lives and safety of the prisoners.”
Independent Ukrainian media outlet Ukrainska Pravda initially said that the plane’s downing had been the work of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, citing a source within the military that said it had been carrying missiles for the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile system, the rocket used by the Russian military for its recent deadly attacks on Kharkiv, rather than prisoners. It later removed the claim, however.
Ukrainian military intelligence confirmed earlier in the day that an exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine had been planned for Wednesday, but would not go ahead, RFE/RL reported.
Russian propagandist and state-owned broadcaster RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan published a list of the Ukrainian prisoners she said had died in the crash. “The plane and crew were ours, the prisoners were theirs. They shot it down," she wrote on her Telegram channel.
The head of the Defence Committee in Russia’s State Duma, Andrey Kartapolov, said the Ukrainian authorities were aware of the exchange and the means of transportation used for the prisoners. He added that a second Il-76 carrying another 80 prisoners on board had turned around after the first plane was downed.
Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that Russia’s lower house of parliament would be in communication with its US and German counterparts about the crash.
State Duma deputy Tatyana Solomatina told Novaya Europe that the prisoner exchange that had been due to take place at 1pm today in the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, would have involved over 190 POWs from each side.
The Il-76 aircraft has been used by Russia to transport Ukrainian prisoners of war in the past. In a news item about the exchange of 248 Russian and Ukrainian POWs shown on state-run Channel One earlier this month, an Il-76 was shown in the report, according to Telegram channel Beware, News.