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25 Jan 2024

Russia risked lives in downed plane, Volodymyr Zelensky says: BBC

Russia risked lives in downed plane, Volodymyr Zelensky says: BBC
Screenshot from video showing the moment a Russian aircraft crashed in the Belgorod region
Originally posted on BBC

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Moscow of "playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners", after a deadly plane crash in western Russia.

He demanded an international inquiry after Wednesday's crash in the Belgorod region near Ukraine's border.

Russia said there were no survivors after Kyiv had downed the Il-76 plane with 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, six Russian crew and three escorts.

Moscow claimed the Ukrainians were being flown for a prisoner exchange.

Ukraine's military intelligence (GUR) said it had not been told to ensure safe airspace, as on previous occasions.

The GUR comments have been seen as a tacit acknowledgement that Ukraine shot the military transport plane down, although it stressed it had no reliable information about who was on board and warned the incident may have involved "planned and deliberate actions by Russia".

In his video address late on Wednesday, President Zelensky said it was "obvious that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, with the feelings of their relatives and with the emotions of our society".

The Ukrainian leader, who has cancelled a planned regional trip linked to his birthday on Thursday, stressed that "all clear facts must be established".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the downing of the plane as a "monstrous act", according to Russian news agencies. He told reporters that if Mr Zelensky meant an international inquiry into "the criminal actions of the Kyiv regime", it was definitely needed.

Video shared on social media showed a plane going down followed by an explosion and a fireball near the village of Yablonovo, 70km (44 miles) to the north-east of the city of Belgorod, at about 11:00 local time (08:00 GMT).

Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the plane crashed in a field near a residential area and that everyone on board had died.

Ukraine's general staff, quoted by the Ukrainska Pravda website, said initially that the plane was transporting missiles for Russia's S-300 air defence systems. It made no mention of PoWs.

None of the details surrounding those on board can be independently verified, but Ukraine's military intelligence said it was Russia's responsibility "to ensure the safety of our defenders under the agreements that had been reached".

On this occasion it said it had not been informed that the airspace had to be safeguarded "at the defined time, which is something that had happened on numerous occasions before".

"This can point to Russia's deliberate actions aimed at putting the lives and safety of the PoWs under threat," it added.

Ukraine and Russia have taken part in a number of prisoner swaps since the start of the war.

Ukrainian air force chief Mykola Oleschuk warned that throughout Wednesday Russian propaganda had tried to discredit Ukraine internationally. Ukraine had the right to destroy Russia's means of aerial attacks, he said.

Russia has repeatedly targeted Ukraine's second city Kharkiv with S-300 guided missiles from the Belgorod region in recent days.

Eight people were killed in a series of missiles strikes on Tuesday and another attack was launched overnight into Thursday.

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