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25 Jan, 2024 18:41

Plane with Ukrainian POWs was struck by missile – officials

The Russian military has blamed Kiev for shooting down the Il-76 transport over Belgorod Region
Plane with Ukrainian POWs was struck by missile – officials

Russian investigators have found what appear to be fragments of one or more missiles among the debris of the downed Il-76 in Belgorod Region, TASS reported on Thursday, citing a source in the emergency services.

The military plane was transporting Ukrainian prisoners of war to a scheduled exchange when it crashed on Wednesday morning. The Russian Defense Ministry said that two surface-to-air missiles were fired from Ukrainian territory and apparently struck the Il-76, leaving no survivors. The flight manifest showed six crew members, three Russian officials and 65 Ukrainian POWs were on board.

”Elements were found on the ground confirming an external impact on the aircraft,” the agency’s source said on Thursday. “They will be sent for examination.”

Civilian, military and criminal investigators are currently combing the crash site for clues and collecting the evidence for analysis. 

Initial reports in the Ukrainian media spoke of a successful downing of a Russian military plane transporting missiles. Those reports were quickly deleted when Moscow revealed the flight had carried prisoners instead.

Kiev officials have since said that they were never notified about the prisoner flight, that planes over Belgorod are a legitimate military target, and that Russia is ultimately responsible for anything that happens to the POWs anyway.

A French military source has told state broadcaster FranceInfo that the missiles that brought down the Il-76 were US-made Patriots, operated by the Ukrainian army. One of the Russian investigators on site also said the “pattern of destruction and damage to the fuselage” pointed to the Patriot, according to Russian reporter Alexander Kots.

The Kremlin has condemned the incident as a “monstrous act” by the Ukrainian government against its own citizens. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has called for an “international investigation” to “determine the hard facts” about what happened, insisting that the plane went down in Russian territory.

France, which chairs the UN Security Council, refused Russia’s request to hold an emergency session about the incident, scheduling a meeting for Thursday afternoon instead.