Russian Plane Crash: What We Know So Far

A plane crashed in Russia’s Belgorod region, near the Ukrainian border, on Wednesday.

These are the main and irrefutable facts about the crash that made headlines around the world on Wednesday.

The incident caused significant controversy as Moscow claimed that there were Ukrainian prisoners of war on board – and accused Kyiv of shooting down the plane.

But Russia has not provided any evidence of this. Here’s what you need to know.

What do we know for sure?

The accident video circulating widely on social media has been verified by news agencies such as AP. They show a warplane hitting the ground on Wednesday, triggering an explosion near the Russian village of Yablanovo.

The incident reportedly occurred at around 11.00 local time.

What does Russia say about this?

Moscow said a prisoner of war exchange with Ukraine would take place at a border checkpoint 60 miles west of Belgorod, on January 24.

The Il-76 had a total of 74 passengers on board, according to Moscow: 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, six Russian crew members, and three bodyguards.

According to claims from Russian state media TASS, everyone on board died after “Ukrainian armed forces shot down a Russian Il-76 military transport plane in the Belgorod region”.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was a “terrorist act” and said Kyiv was aware that the prisoners were being transported for the exchange.

Russia claimed a Ukrainian air base had fired two anti-aircraft missiles from the Lyptsi area south of the Ukrainian border.

Moscow also deflected any criticism after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested an international investigation should be launched into the incident.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he thought an investigation should be carried out into the “criminal actions of the Kyiv regime”.

However, Russia has not provided any evidence for its claims.

A Russian military transport jet crashed Wednesday near Russia's border with Ukraine, killing all on board, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.  (AP Digital Embedding)A Russian military transport jet crashed Wednesday near Russia’s border with Ukraine, killing all on board, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. (AP Digital Embedding)

How will Ukraine respond?

At first, Ukraine did not name any of its prisoners of war, and said the Russian plane was carrying missiles for Russia’s S-300 air defense system.

Moscow has used these missiles to target Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, from Belgorod in recent days.

Kyiv later said that, unlike previous exchanges, it was not advised to ensure its airspace was safe for travel.

They also said they did not have clear information about who was on the plane.

Kyiv added that it was Moscow’s responsibility “to guarantee the safety of our defenders on the basis of the agreements that have been reached”.

Ukraine also stated that the downing of the plane may have been part of a “planned and deliberate action by Russia”.

He added that the lack of communication in keeping the airspace clean “could indicate deliberate actions by Russia aimed at endangering the lives and safety of prisoners of war.”

This was seen as a subtle admission that Ukraine may have been responsible for the shooting, but Kiev has not said so so far.

In his speech on Wednesday evening, Zelenskyy claimed Russia was “playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners”, and called for an international investigation into the incident.

Ukrainian Air Force Mykola Oleshchuk also warned on Wednesday that Russia was trying to discredit Ukraine – and that Kyiv had the right to destroy Russia’s air attack means.

Ukraine’s government agency said Russia was “actively conducting special information operations against Ukraine aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society.”

Ahead of the planned exchange, Ukraine said it had implemented its part of the deal, and captured Russian military servicemen were “delivered to the agreed location on time for exchange and they are safe there”.

Dmytro Lubinets, human rights commissioner in the Ukrainian parliament, said: “Don’t be fooled by provocations. More detailed information will be provided later.”

Why is location important?

Belgorod is located 40 miles north of the border with Ukraine, and there have been significant disturbances there recently.

Russia accidentally dropped a bomb on a village in the region on January 2, in what it described as an “emergency release of aviation munitions”.

A statement from the Russian government said there were no fatalities or injuries, but at least six privately owned buildings were affected.

And in late December, 25 people were killed and 100 injured after a Ukrainian airstrike in Belgorod.

However, Ukraine claimed that only military infrastructure was hit and blamed Russian air defenses for the shrapnel that fell on the city.

What happened next?

Hopefully more details will emerge in the coming days.

But it is unclear what might happen with a prisoner of war exchange.

More than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians and military are still being held by Russia, according to the Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, Peskov also said there was “nothing to say” about future exchanges at this time.

He added: “No one can explain how this will affect the prospects for the continuation of this process.”

He also added that the process “must be carried out secretly.”

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