A large Russian military transport plane crashed on Wednesday in the Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, state news agencies said, citing a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry. Everyone onboard was killed, the regional governor said.
The Defense Ministry said that the plane had been carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were being transferred to the region to be exchanged for Russian service personnel. The claim could not be independently verified. The plane was also carrying six crew members and three other individuals, the ministry said, according to Tass, a Russian state news agency.
The governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said in a statement on social media that the plane had crashed in a field near a settlement in the Korochansky district. He said that emergency services were at the site and were investigating.
It was not immediately clear whether the plane had been shot down or whether it had crashed because of mechanical failure or other cause.
A video posted to Telegram and verified by The Times showed a large plane crashing and exploding in Yablonovo, a town in the Korochansky district.
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, said in an interview with Radio Liberty that his country was looking into Russia’s assertions that prisoners of war were onboard. And he said: “I can state that the exchange planned for today is currently not taking place,” without elaborating.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, declined to comment on the crash reports, telling journalists that the information was still “too fresh.” The Russian Air Force command dispatched a group to the scene of the crash to try to determine the cause, according to the Defense Ministry statement.
The plane, an Il-76, was designed decades ago in the Soviet Union to perform military duties such as airlifting troops, cargo and weapons.
Andrei Kartapolov, a Russian lawmaker, said at a session of the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, that the Il-76 had been shot down by three Ukrainian missiles. He did not provide any evidence for his claim, and it could not be independently verified.
The Belgorod region of Russia has a long border with Ukraine. Over the past few weeks, it has been the scene of frequent Ukrainian attacks, including a missile bombardment in December. It was also the staging ground for Moscow’s full-scale invasion in 2022 and for further Russian strikes against Ukrainian territory during the war.
Russia and Ukraine have been exchanging prisoners since the start of the war through deals brokered by a third-party, such as Turkey or the United Arab Emirates. Those deals have been very complicated, with the sides meticulously negotiating every detail.
In early January, after a long pause in exchanges that followed the release in Turkey of five former commanders of Ukraine’s garrison in the Azovstal steel plant, which angered Moscow, Russia and Ukraine conducted the largest exchange of prisoners since the start of the war.
Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting.