What to Know:
On January 24, a Russian IL-76 transport aircraft crashed outside the town of Yablanov in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast after purportedly being shot down by Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles. Russia’s Ministry of Defense has come out to claim that the aircraft was carrying dozens of Ukrainian prisoners, While Ukraine has claimed the aircraft was carrying Russian S-300 missile systems.
Footage of the crash can be geolocated to the village of Yablanov, which sits northeast of Belgorod city (50.85309173629894, 37.35971678237929).
Crash of a military transport plane Il-76 in the Belgorod region. Pay attention to the trail in the sky at the 19th second. pic.twitter.com/7irG93IclX
— CIT (en) (@CITeam_en) January 24, 2024
The initial moments of the video show the aircraft heading in a north/ northwestern as it crashes outside of the town. At the 19 second mark, a smoke trail can be seen in the sky, which is indicative of a missile interception.
Footage later released by Russian media shows a large debris field from the aircraft. Damage observed on parts of the wreckage are also consistent with that of a missile interception. Likewise, some bodies can be seen amongst the wreckage, however, current visual evidence is not consistent with claims that over 60 people were killed.
?? Footage from the crash site of the IL-76 shows the aircraft's exterior marked with shrapnel damage. However, contrary to Russian media claims, the alleged 65 fatalities are not evident in the video. pic.twitter.com/5MRCHOFu5C
— Pete (@splendid_pete) January 24, 2024
Russia’s Ministry of Defense released a statement confirming that the transport aircraft was shot down, further claiming that it was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war that were set to be exchanged.
The statement said that “Today, at 11:15 a.m., the Kyiv regime committed a terrorist act as a result of which a Russian military transport aircraft was shot down, flying along the route Chkalovsky-Belgorod airfield to transport Ukrainian military personnel for exchange.”
“The plane was destroyed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the area of Liptsy, Kharkov Region, using an anti-aircraft missile system.”
“On board the plane were six crew members, 65 Ukrainian military personnel for the exchange and three Russian military personnel accompanying them. The crew and all passengers of the plane were killed,” it added.
The Ministry also added that the exchange was set to take place at the Kolotilovka checkpoint along the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Russian propagandists have published online an alleged list of prisoners who were on board Il-76.
However, the names of 17 people from this list coincide with the names from the list of prisoners who had already been exchanged on January 3, according to UNIAN.
? UNIAN pic.twitter.com/sZ4e2Cp1PH
— Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (@khpg) January 24, 2024
Chief editor of Russian state media outlet RT, Margarita Simonyan, released a list claiming to include the names of Ukrainian prisoners on the flight, however, Ukrainian sources have indicated that many of those on the list have already been released in previous exchanges.
While not explicitly claiming responsibility for downing the aircraft, Ukraine’s General Staff of its armed forces released a statement after the crash saying that in order to reduce Russian missile attacks against Kharkiv, “the Armed Forces of Ukraine not only control the airspace, but also monitor in detail the launch points of missiles and the logistics of their delivery, especially with the use of military transport aviation.”
“The recorded intensity of shelling is directly related to the increase in the number of military transport planes that have recently been heading to the Belgorod airfield.”
“Taking this into account, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will continue to take measures to destroy means of delivery, control the airspace to destroy the terrorist threat, including in the Belgorod-Kharkiv direction,” the statement added.
Likewise, Ukrainska Pravda, quoting Ukraine’s General Staff, claimed that aircraft was transporting missiles for S-300 air defense systems.
Speaking with Radio Liberty, however, Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate chief Andriy Yusov said that a prisoner exchange was set to take place today, but “is not going ahead” without providing other details.
There is undeniable proof that a Russian military aircraft was downed over Belgorod, but what this comes down to is the specifics.
Russia claims that the aircraft was flying from Chkalovsky to Belgorod, however, footage shows that the aircraft crashed some 40 miles northeast of Belgorod while heading in the opposite direction.
Footage of the crash and wreckage is consistent of a missile interception, however, there is not enough visual evidence to confirm there were dozens of additional deaths aside from the crew.
Ukraine has confirmed that a prisoner exchange was set to take place, but was canceled for unspecified reasons.