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25 Jan, 2024 00:11

Zelensky reacts to deaths of POWs in plane attack

The Ukrainian leader has called for an international probe into the downing of a Russian IL-76
Zelensky reacts to deaths of POWs in plane attack

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky on Wednesday disputed Moscow’s claim that Kiev’s air defenses shot down a Russian plane carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war scheduled to be exchanged.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Il-76 was transporting 65 Ukrainian captives when it was shot down by a Ukrainian missile over Belgorod Region. Six Russian crew members and three officials were also on board. There were no survivors.

“We must determine all the hard facts – as much as possible, given that the plane crashed on Russian territory,” Zelensky said in a video published on his website.

He added that the Ukrainian authorities are investigating the incident and working to “determine the fate of all POWs.”

“Our country will be insisting on an international investigation,” the president said, accusing Moscow of “playing with the lives of Ukrainian POWs.” He did not name a culprit in the destruction of the transport plane, however.

Several Ukrainian media outlets and journalists initially cited sources as saying that the aircraft was “transporting missiles” and was shot down by Ukrainian troops. They quickly deleted their original reports after Russia revealed that the plane was carrying Ukrainian captives.

The Russian MOD insisted that Kiev was “well aware” that the captives would be transported on a military plane to an airfield near the Russian city of Belgorod, and then taken to an exchange point. The Ukrainian military intelligence agency (GUR) claimed that they had not been informed in advance about the route or the means of the prisoners’ transportation.

The Ukrainian General Staff released a statement saying Russia has been using transport planes to resupply Belgorod with missiles used to strike Kharkov, and that the plane was therefore a legitimate military target. However, it did not mention any prisoners.

Russia requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the incident. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that “Ukrainian propaganda” has been frantically “trying to concoct other explanations” since the information about the passengers of the doomed flight was revealed. France, which chairs the council this month, said it could call for a session on Thursday afternoon.