A Russian military transport plane crashed in the Belgorod border region, killing all 74 people on board. The casualties included 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, six crew members, and three Russian servicemen.

The Russian Defence Ministry initially claimed that the aircraft, an Ilyushin Il-76, was shot down by Kyiv’s armed forces. The ministry pointed fingers at Ukraine, accusing them of intentionally targeting the transport plane.

The Ukrainian government did not provide immediate comments on the crash. Details surrounding the individuals on board the ill-fated flight remain unverified.

The Ilyushin Il-76, a Soviet-designed military transport aircraft, is known for its versatility in transporting troops, cargo, equipment, and weapons.

Russian officials, including Vyacheslav Volodin, the chair of the Duma, and Andrei Kartapolov, a senior lawmaker, accused Ukraine of intentionally shooting down the transport plane. Volodin highlighted that the plane was shot down by Kyiv, blaming western missiles and claiming Ukrainian soldiers were the intended targets.

Kartapolov, a retired general, stated that the plane was shot down by three missiles but did not disclose the source of this information. He suggested the missiles could be either western-supplied Patriots or Iris-Ts. Kartapolov also alleged that the crash occurred on a day slated for a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, with 192 prisoners scheduled to be swapped on both sides.

In response, the Ukrainian state body responsible for prisoner exchanges did not confirm the incident. They cautioned against relying on “enemy propaganda resources about the crash.” Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesperson, Andriy Yusov, informed Radio Liberty that a planned exchange between the two countries had been scheduled for Wednesday but had not taken place. He emphasised that his agency is actively verifying Russia’s information regarding Ukrainian prisoners on the crashed plane.

In a recent development, both Russia and Ukraine had announced the largest exchange of prisoners since the war began, involving over 200 soldiers from each side. The deal was mediated by the United Arab Emirates. The Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine, holds strategic importance for Russian supply lines and has faced consistent shelling and drone attacks. In December, the region’s capital suffered a devastating missile strike that claimed the lives of 25 people.