A military transport plane that Russia said was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war crashed Wednesday near the Ukrainian border, killing all on board, Russian authorities said.
NBC News was unable to independently verify the identity of who was on board the plane or why it crashed near the southern city of Belgorod. Ukrainian officials warned against sharing “unverified information” but did not immediately provide further details.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement published by the state-run TASS news agency that the Ilyushin Il-76 plane was “conducting a scheduled flight” when it went down in the area adjacent to Ukraine’s northeastern border.
The statement said: “On board the plane were 65 captured soldiers from the Ukrainian Armed Forces who were transported to the Belgorod region for exchange, in addition to six crew members and three accompanying people.”
She added that a team was sent to the accident site to investigate the causes of the accident.
The governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said in a statement on the Telegram application, “All those on board died,” adding that the plane “fell into a field near a populated area.”
He did not say whether anyone on the ground was killed or explain the cause of the accident.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin is studying the situation.
The head of the Russian Parliament's Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said that the plane was shot down by three air defense missiles of the type that Ukraine supplied to its Western allies.
“The Ukrainian leadership was fully aware of the impending exchange and was informed of how the prisoners would be delivered,” he said during a speech in Parliament. He did not clarify the source of his information.
Ukraine's Coordination Body for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said it was investigating the incident and warned against “publishing unverified information.”
She said in a statement on the Telegram application: “We confirm that the enemy is actively carrying out special information operations directed against Ukraine, which aim to destabilize Ukrainian society.”
The two countries regularly conduct prisoner exchanges, even as they continue to fight along the war's front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Areas in western Russia, including Belgorod, have been subject to regular attacks in recent weeks.
Russian officials accused Kiev of carrying out the attacks. Ukrainian officials rarely take public responsibility for attacks on Russian territory or occupied Crimea. However, previously larger air strikes against Russia have followed violent attacks on Ukrainian cities.
The population of Belgorod, the largest Russian city close to the border, is about 340,000 people. It is located about 60 miles north of Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine.
This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates
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