Russia accused Ukraine of shooting down a Russian military plane in the Belgorod region near the Ukrainian border on Wednesday, saying all 74 people on board were killed, including dozens of Ukrainian soldiers who were being transported for a prisoner exchange.
The Ilyushin-76 cargo plane crashed inside Russian airspace, 5 to 6 kilometers (about 3 to 3.7 miles) from the village of Yablonovo in the Korocha region. The Russian Ministry of Defense described the incident as a terrorist act.
The ministry said in a statement: “The Ukrainian armed forces destroyed the plane from the Lipsey district of the Kharkiv region using an anti-aircraft missile system.”
“Russian Air Force radars detected the launch of two Ukrainian missiles.”
Air defense systems in the Belgorod region were active shortly before the accident, according to region governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.
Kiev has not yet commented on Moscow's accusations of shooting down the plane. Meanwhile, Ukrainian sources said that the plane was carrying missiles for the S-300 air defense system. CNN cannot independently verify either side's claims.
A video geolocated by CNN appears to show the IL-76's final seconds before it crashes to the ground.
The video was filmed in Yablonovo, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the city of Belgorod, and begins with the plane already in a steep fall. Before it disappears behind a truck and passing trees, what appears to be part of the plane can be seen falling from the front of the fuselage.
Two seconds later, after the plane disappeared from sight, a huge fireball and black smoke could be seen emerging from the invisible point of impact with the ground.
The camera then pans sharply to the left to show what appears to be a small cloud of smoke. This may be an indication that the plane may have exploded, although the plane's flight path cannot be determined with certainty from the video.
Several eyewitnesses described hearing loud, thunderous applause at the time of the plane crash, followed by an air raid warning in the Russian city.
“We heard one or two strong explosions. At intervals of a minute or less. The second explosion was much louder. We all ran to see if someone needed help, but the incident was far beyond the village. One of the women told Russian state media RIA Novosti: “It was very loud and scary.”
“We heard three claps. The claps were loud enough, and we thought something had fallen somewhere here, or missiles had been dropped in the air. “Right after that, the students in my class started saying the air raid alarm went off,” said one young man. In Belgorod, when the siren sounded.
Another man said there was a “strong vibration” in the room after the loud noises.
The Il-76 pilots managed to direct the plane away from the village of Yablonovo, sacrificing their lives, said the priest of the local church, Rev. Georgy Borovikov.
Russian news agencies, citing the Ministry of Defense, said that 65 Ukrainian soldiers were on board the plane and were flown to Belgorod before the prisoner exchange.
A Ukrainian government agency for prisoner of war affairs said it was investigating allegations that the plane was carrying Ukrainian soldiers.
A statement from the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War in Ukraine did not provide any further details, but warned that Russia was “actively conducting special information operations against Ukraine aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society.”
Ukraine confirmed that a prisoner-of-war exchange with Russia was scheduled for Wednesday. “This is not happening at the moment,” Andriy Yuson, of Ukraine's defense intelligence, told CNN.
Russian officials said six Russian crew members and three “accompanying personnel” were on board. Andrei Kartapolov, a member of the Russian parliament's defense committee, said a second military plane, also an IL-76, was carrying an additional 80 prisoners of war, which was diverted.
“The Ukrainian leadership was fully aware of the impending exchange and was informed of how the prisoners would be delivered,” Kartapolov said. But the IL-76 was shot down by three missiles, either by Patriot or anti-aircraft missile systems, or by German-made IRIS missiles.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the cause of the accident was being investigated. A transport plane crashed in the Korochansky district. It fell in a field near a settlement. “Everyone on board died,” Gladkov said. “Now the crash site has been cordoned off. He added that all operational services are on site and investigation procedures are being implemented.
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The Ilyushin Il-76 is a Soviet-era military transport plane with a payload of more than 50 tons, according to the European Aviation Safety Authority. Eurocontrol. It has been in service since 1975.
The border city of Belgorod was the site of one of these cities The most violent Ukrainian attacks On Russian soil late last year. At least 24 people were killed, including three children, and 108 others were injured in the attacks that sparked retaliatory Russian strikes on the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.
The plane crash comes as Russia's war in Ukraine is set to enter its third year, with little progress on the battlefield by either side in recent months. Western intelligence assessments warning It is possible that this movement on the battlefield will suffer further stagnation this year.
Kiev and Moscow exchanged prisoners of war throughout the conflict. The biggest swap came earlier in January, when both sides… More than 200 prisoners were exchanged.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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