Russia Says 74 Dead, No Survivors, In Crash Of Plane It Says Carried Ukrainian PoWs | CBC News

Russia says plane that crashed near Ukraine was carrying PoWsA video, which Reuters obtained and matched to satellite imagery of the area, shows a Russian transport plane crashing by the Ukrainian border. The Russian state news agency said the plane was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, a claim Ukraine hasn’t confirmed.

A Russian military transport plane crashed Wednesday in a border region near Ukraine, and Moscow accused Kyiv of shooting it down, saying all 74 people aboard were killed, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war headed for a swap.

Russia offered no evidence and Ukraine didn’t immediately confirm or deny it.

Video of the crash on social media from the Belgorod region of Russia showed a plane falling from the sky in a snowy, rural area, and a massive ball of fire erupting where it apparently hit the ground.

The Associated Press couldn’t confirm who was aboard or other details on what brought the plane down.

Throughout nearly two years of war, Russia and Ukraine have traded conflicting accusations, and establishing the facts has often been difficult, both because of the constraints of a war zone and because each side tightly controls information.

Traffic police officers block off a road near the crash site of the Russian military transport plane on Wednesday, outside the village of Yablonovo in Belgorod, Russia. (Reuters)The Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement that the Il-76 transport plane was carrying 65 POWs, a crew of six and three Russian servicemen. Russian radar registered the launch of two missiles from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that borders Belgorod, the statement said.

“We’ve seen the reports, but we’re not in any position to confirm them,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

Separately, a U.S. official said that it’s not clear that there were actually Ukrainian POWs aboard the aircraft that crashed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details that haven’t been announced publicly.

Hours after the crash, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine made no mention of the crash in a statement. But it added that Ukraine targets Russian military transport planes believed to be delivering missiles, especially near the border.

Russia lost two warplanes and two helicopters in its own airspace in one day in May 2023. Kyiv officials initially denied involvement, but later said they had used Patriot missiles to hit the aircraft.

The Kharkiv and Belgorod regions have long been a focus of the fighting between the neighbours, including airstrikes with missiles and drones.

Mystery surrounds reported prisoner swapThe Russian military said that the PoWs on the flight were being transported to the region for a prisoner exchange when the plane went down at 11:15 a.m. local time. The Il-76 is designed to carry up to 225 troops, cargo, military equipment and weapons, according to Russia’s military export agency.

Ukrainian military intelligence confirmed a swap was due to take place, but said that it had no information about who was on the plane. Moscow didn’t ask for specific airspace to be kept safe for a certain length of time, as has happened in past exchanges, it said in a statement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine would push for an international investigation of what happened.

“It is necessary to establish all the facts, as much as possible, considering that the plane crash occurred on Russian territory — beyond our control,” he said in his nightly address.

“It’s obvious Russians are playing with lives of Ukrainian POWs, with feelings of their relatives and emotions of our society,” Zelenskyy said.

At a news conference at the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for an emergency meeting later Wednesday of the UN Security Council, saying he has “no concern” about the international community believing Moscow’s allegations.

But the Security Council already has a meeting scheduled to hear from many countries that didn’t get to speak at Tuesday’s ministerial meeting on the Israeli-Hamas war, and France, which holds the council’s presidency, indicated that the emergency meeting will take place on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

Russian officials and lawmakers questioned whether there should be further prisoner swaps between Moscow and Kyiv. The most recent one, brokered by the United Arab Emirates, took place this month and was the biggest to date, with 230 Ukrainian POWs returning home and 248 Russians released.

WATCH l Western resolve to aid Ukraine showing cracks at critical time:

Russia escalating air attacks as Ukraine faces roadblocks in military aid in 2024U.S. and EU aid packages for Ukraine remain stalled as Kyiv pleads for more air defence capacity to deal with escalating Russian air attacks. Power & Politics speaks with Andriy Shevchenko, former Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, and Roman Waschuk, former Canadian ambassador to Ukraine.

Russia has largely ensured its air dominance during the war against Ukraine’s fleet of Soviet-era warplanes. But Russia has suffered a string of crashes that some observers have attributed to a higher number of flights amid the fighting in Ukraine.

At the same time, Kyiv has boasted recently about shooting down two Russian command and control planes, which would be a major feat for Ukraine if verified. Cross-border attacks on Russia’s Belgorod region also have increased, with the deadliest one killing 25 people in December.

Shortly before the crash, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that a “missile alert” had been triggered in the region.

Ukraine’s Co-ordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said that it was looking into the crash, but didn’t immediately provide any information. Instead, it cautioned against sharing “unverified information.”

“We emphasize that the enemy is actively conducting information special operations against Ukraine aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society,” it said in a statement on Telegram.

Ukraine suffers heaviest attack in weeksEarlier Wednesday, Zelenskyy said a major Russian missile attack that apparently was devised to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defences had killed 18 people and injured 130. 

The barrage employing more than 40 ballistic, cruise, anti-aircraft and guided missiles early Tuesday hit 130 residential buildings in three Ukrainian cities, “all ordinary houses,” Zelenskyy said on X, formerly Twitter.

Communal workers clean rubble littering the street outside a damaged building in Kharkiv on Wednesday in the wake of a Russian missile barrage. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)Russia’s onslaught, which included targets in the capital Kyiv and second-largest city Kharkiv, was the heaviest in weeks and lent weight to Zelenskyy’s appeals for more Western military aid.

With the 1,500-kilometre front line largely static amid icy weather and as both sides seek to replenish their weapons stockpiles, the war recently has focused on long-range strikes.

Analysts say Russia stockpiled missiles to pursue a winter campaign of aerial bombardment, while Ukraine has sought to strike inside Russia with new types of drones. Russia may have employed decoy missiles in Tuesday’s attack in an effort to open up holes in Ukraine’s air defences, a U.S. think-tank said.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Moscow is likely trying to acquire more ballistic missiles from foreign countries, including Iran and North Korea.

Ukraine front lines confront depleted stocksUkraine’s allies have promised to keep sending military aid packages, even though their resources are stretched. Help from the United States has hit political snags over policy priorities.

The U.S. has not been able to provide additional munitions since then because the money for replenishing those stockpiles has run out and Congress has yet to approve more funds.

WATCH l Ukraine’s Olena Zelenska tells CBC News staying positive takes effort:

Ukrainian president’s wife fights against ‘fatigue and fatalistic thoughts’Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena Zelenska, says she feels it is her responsibility to be an example for fellow Ukrainians, even though it’s not always easy to resist negative emotions due to the war.

After a virtual meeting Tuesday chaired by the U.S., Celeste Wallander, assistant defence secretary for international affairs in the Biden administration, told reporters that Ukraine’s defence ministry is getting reports from its front lines that “units do not have the stocks and the stores of ammunition that they require.”

“I urge this group to dig deep to provide Ukraine with more lifesaving ground-based air defence systems and interceptors,” U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told the group.

Canadian Defence Minister Bill Blair, who participated in the Ukraine Defence Contact Group (UDCG) meeting via video link, announced a $35 million commitment from Ottawa. Canada will send 10 rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and pay to train Ukrainian pilots on how to fly F-16s being donated by Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The German defence ministry announced Wednesday that it plans to send six SEA KING Mk41 multi-role helicopters from Bundeswehr stocks to Ukraine.

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