Russia, Ukraine clash over bodies of military plane crash victims

There has been no official confirmation on who downed the plane, but Russia accuses Ukraine.

Footage released by the Russian Investigative Committee purportedly shows what investigators say is the IL-76 military transport plane crash site in the Belgorod region [Handout via AFP]Published On 2 Feb 20242 Feb 2024

Russia and Ukraine are locked in a dispute about the bodies of people killed in the crash of a Russian military transport plane who Moscow says were Ukrainian prisoners of war.

A Ukrainian intelligence official said in televised remarks late on Thursday that Kyiv has urged Moscow to hand over the bodies of those killed in the January 24 crash, which Russia has blamed on Ukraine. He said Moscow has refused.

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Andrii Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence, reiterated Kyiv’s call for an international investigation into the crash over the Russian region of Belgorod to determine whether the cargo plane carried weapons or passengers along with the crew.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA Novosti news agency on Friday that the Kremlin hadn’t received a Ukrainian request to hand over the bodies.

Russia would not only welcome but also “insist” on an international inquiry into the plane’s downing, Putin said this week as he described the crash as a “crime” by Ukraine.

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied that its forces downed the Ilyushin Il-76 plane that Russia says was carrying 65 Ukrainian POWs. Russia’s claim about the prisoners couldn’t be independently verified.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, its main state criminal investigation agency, said the plane was brought down by the US-made Patriot missile defence system, which Western allies have supplied to Kyiv for the war against Russia.

The committee said it has recovered 116 fragments of two missiles that were fired from a Patriot system near the village of Lyptsi in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, which sits on the other side of the border from Belgorod. It had a video that purported to show some missile fragments lying in the snow with markings said to prove their origin.

It also said it has identified all the crash victims.

Russian officials said there were 74 people on board – 65 Ukrainian POWs, six crew members and three Russian servicemen – all of whom were killed.

Despite the crash, the two countries completed a prisoner exchange on Wednesday, each swapping 195 POWs.

The war between Russia and Ukraine, which is nearing its two-year mark, continues to rage, with Russia carrying out long-range strikes on Ukraine with missiles and drones.

Ukraine on Thursday said it used sea drones to attack and destroy a Russian warship in the Black Sea near the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

In Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown, a drone strike damaged an energy facility, leaving 100,000 recipients without electricity and 113 coal miners stranded underground in two mines. Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the central city’s defence council, said all the miners were brought to safety after power was partially restored.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies