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Il-76 crash in Belgorod region: What's known so far

Il-76 crash in Belgorod region: What's known so far Photo: An Il-76 military transport plane crashed in the Belgorod region (Russian media)
Author: Liliana Oleniak

An Il-76 military transport plane went down in the Belgorod region on January 24. The Russian Ministry of Defense said that there were allegedly "prisoners of war of the Armed Forces of Ukraine" on board, while the Ukrainian side said it was checking the information and urged not to spread Russian fakes.

Sources used: Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets, Russian media, own sources, Interfax-Ukraine, as well as comments by the Ministry of Defense to Suspilne, representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine Andrii Yusov to Radio Liberty, and advisor to the head of the President's Office Mykhailo Podoliak to Reuters.

Il-76 crash

Russian Telegram channels were the first to report the crash of a Russian military transport aircraft Il-76 in the Korocha district of Belgorod region. The incident occurred around 11:00 local time. The Russian side also claims that all people on board were killed.

The footage of the plane crash was also shared online. The video shows an explosion after the crash, followed by a large fire. Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military and political expert of the Information Resistance group, drew attention to this detail. In his opinion, this may be a confirmation that the plane was carrying missiles for the S-300.

"This version is confirmed by the fact that nothing remained of the plane after the crash, and parts of its fuselage were scattered across the field, meaning that after the crash and impact with the ground, there was also a powerful detonation of the ammunition," he writes on Telegram.

Photo: footage from the crash site of the Il-76 (Russian media)

Russia's version

There is no official version of what exactly caused the downing of the Il-76. The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that there were allegedly "65 captured Ukrainian Armed Forces servicemen" on board, who were allegedly being transported to the Belgorod region for exchange. In addition, there were 6 crew members and 3 attendants.

The head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, made a cynical statement that Ukraine allegedly "deliberately shot down the Il-76 to disrupt the exchange." So now, he said, "the exchange is probably out of the question."

For his part, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin called for "preparing an appeal to the U.S. Congress and the Bundestag," probably to influence the supply of air defense missiles to Ukraine.

Where was plane flying to?

The local Telegram channel Bletgorod published a video shot by eyewitnesses of the crash, which has been widely analyzed. Russian propagandists claim that "the plane crashed immediately after takeoff from the Belgorod airfield."

In turn, the media outlet Vazhnye Istoryy identified the location of the video as being in the center of the village of Yabloneve, facing north. This was also confirmed by Mediazona.

The pro-Kremlin media put forward a version that a prisoner-of-war exchange was supposed to take place on the border of the Belgorod region. However, one Ukrainian OSINT analyst points out that the Il-76 was flying in the opposite direction. According to him, the crashed plane, numbered RA-78830, flew through Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea, and Iran, disappeared from radar near Syria, and then reappeared over Belgorod. So, according to the analyst, "everything points to the fact that the Il-76 was carrying weapons from the East and so far there are no signs that there could have been prisoners."

What Ukraine says

According to RBC-Ukraine's sources in the Ukrainian Defense Forces, this Russian military transport plane was carrying missiles for the S-300 air defense system. Russians often use these systems to hit Kharkiv and the region. The source did not provide any other details.

Meanwhile, an anonymous source told Interfax-Ukraine that the plane was allegedly shot down on takeoff.

At the same time, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, according to Suspilne, cannot confirm that the plane was hit by the Ukrainian Defense Forces, as they are "still investigating the information."

For their part, the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War commented on the Russian Defense Ministry's statement about the downing of the plane and called for refraining from disseminating unverified information until official statements are released.

"The Coordination Headquarters and other specialized structures are collecting and analyzing all the necessary information. We urge the media and citizens to refrain from disseminating unverified information until official statements or comments are made public by authorized persons or bodies," the statement says.

Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets also said that he was clarifying details and analyzing information about the downing of the Russian Il-76 aircraft.

"I urge media representatives and citizens of Ukraine not to make premature conclusions and trust only official sources," he adds.

Instead, the representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, Andrii Yusov, confirms in a comment to Radio Liberty that a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine was being prepared.

"But I can state that the exchange planned for today is not taking place yet," he says.

He adds that the information that the prisoners of war could have been in the Il-76 plane that crashed in the Belgorod region, voiced by the Russian side, is currently being checked.

According to an advisor to the head of the Presidential Office Mykhailo Podoliak, the authorities will comment later.

"Comments will be a little later. It takes time to clarify all the data," Podoliak tells Reuters.

Briefly about IL-76

The Il-76 is a Soviet and Russian heavy military transport aircraft. These aircraft were put into service in 1975. The IL-76 was the first military transport aircraft in the history of the USSR to be powered by a turbojet engine. These aircraft are used by Russia to transport both personnel and heavy equipment.

According to open sources, this aircraft is capable of delivering cargo with a maximum weight of 28-60 tons over a distance of up to 4,200 km at a cruising speed of 770-800 km/h. The crew consists of 6-7 people.