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    HomeWorldRussia says 74 killed on military plane that crashed near Ukrainian border

    Russia says 74 killed on military plane that crashed near Ukrainian border



    CNN
     — 

    All 74 people, including dozens of Ukrainian servicemen, on board a Russian military plane were killed Wednesday when it crashed in the Belgorod region near the Ukrainian border, Russian officials said, as speculation grew over the cause of the incident.

    The Russian Defense Ministry blamed Ukraine for the downing of the Ilyushin-76 cargo plane inside Russian airspace, 5 to 6 kilometers (about 3 to 3.7 miles) from the village of Yablonovo in the Korocha district. It said Kyiv had used an anti-aircraft missile system to target the aircraft and called it an act of terrorism.

    “The plane was destroyed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the area of Liptsy, Kharkiv region, using an anti-aircraft missile system,” the ministry said in a statement. “The radar equipment of the Russian Aerospace Forces observed the launch of two Ukrainian missiles.”

    Kyiv has yet to comment on Moscow’s claim. Ukrainian sources meanwhile, asserted the plane was carrying missiles for the S-300 air defense system. CNN cannot independently verify either claim.

    A video geolocated by CNN appeared to show the IL-76 plane’s final seconds before it crashes to the ground.

    The video was filmed in Yablonovo, which lies about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the city of Belgorod, and begins with the plane already in a steep fall. Just before it disappears behind a passing truck and trees, what appears to be a part of the plane can be seen falling from the front of the fuselage.

    Two seconds later, after the plane has disappeared from view, a huge fireball and black smoke can be seen emerging from the point of impact – which is not visible – with the ground.

    The camera then pans sharply to the left to show what appears to be a small cloud of smoke. This could be an indication of a possible explosion on the plane, though the flight path of the plane cannot be established with certainty from the video.

    Several eyewitness described hearing loud, thunderous claps at the time of the crash, followed by an air raid alert in the Russian city.

    “We heard one or two loud bangs. With an interval of a minute or less. The second bang was much louder. We all ran out to see if someone needs help, but the crash was further away after the village. It was very loud and scary,” one woman told Russian state media RIA Novosti.

    “We heard three claps. The claps were loud enough, and we thought that either something had fallen somewhere here, or that missiles had been shot down in the air. Then right after that, the guys in my class began to say that air raid alert went off in Belgorod, the sound of a siren,” said one young man.

    Another man said there was a “strong vibration” in the room after the loud noises.

    The pilots of the Il-76 managed to steer the plane away from the village of Yablonovo, sacrificing their lives, the rector of the local church, Priest Georgy Borovikov said.

    Russian news agencies citing the Defense Ministry said 65 Ukrainian servicemen were on board the plane and being flown to Belgorod ahead of a prisoner swap.

    A Ukrainian government agency for prisoners of war said it was investigating claims that the plane was carrying Ukrainian servicemen.

    A statement from the “Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War of Ukraine” provided no further details but did warn Russia was “actively conducting information special operations against Ukraine aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society.”

    Ukraine confirmed that a prisoner of war exchange with Russia had been due to take place on Wednesday. “It is not happening at the moment,” Andriy Yuson, from Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence, told CNN.

    Six Russian crew members and three “accompanying personnel” were also on board the plane, Russian officials said. Russian Parliament’s defense committee member Andrey Kartapolov said a second military plane, also an IL-76, was carrying an additional 80 prisoners of war, which was diverted.

    Kartapolov said the “Ukrainian leadership was well aware of the impending exchange and was informed of how the prisoners would be delivered. But the IL-76 plane was shot down by three missiles, either with anti-aircraft missile systems or Patriot, or with German-made IRIS.”

    Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the cause of the crash was being investigated. “A transport airplane crashed in the Korochansky district. It went down in a field near a settlement. All those on board died,” Gladkov said. “Now the crash site is cordoned off. All operational services are on site, investigative measures are being carried out,” he added.


    View this interactive content on CNN.com

    The Ilyushin Il-76 is a Soviet-era military transport aircraft with a payload of more than 50 tons, according to Europe’s air safety body, Eurocontrol. It has been in service since 1975.

    The border city of Belgorod was the site of one of the deadliest Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil late last year. At least 24 people, including three children, were killed and 108 others wounded in the attacks, which sparked retaliatory Russian strikes on the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.

    The plane crash comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine is set to enter its third year, with little battlefield progress made by either side in recent months. Western intelligence assessments warn that battlefield movement could further stagnate this year.

    Kyiv and Moscow have exchanged prisoners of war throughout the conflict. The largest swap came earlier in January, when the two sides each exchanged over 200 prisoners.

    This is a developing story and will be updated.

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