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Tension escalates between Russia, Ukraine following crash of military aircraft carrying Ukrainian prisoners

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MOSCOW | Xinhua |  The Russian Defense Ministry has confirmed that Ukraine launched two missiles at an Il-76 military transport aircraft, killing all 74 people on board.

“Today at 11:15 a.m., the Kiev regime committed a terrorist act, as a result of which a Russian military transport aircraft was shot down,” the Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday in a statement, adding that all passengers on board were killed.

“The Ukrainian armed forces destroyed the plane… with the use of an anti-aircraft missile system,” the statement said, adding that the Russian radar equipment detected the launch of two Ukrainian missiles.

According to the statement, the aircraft was hit on its way from the Chkalovsky airfield to Belgorod while it was transporting Ukrainian military personnel for a prisoner exchange.

There were 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers onboard the IL-76 for a prisoner-of-war swap that had been agreed on between Moscow and Kiev. Other passengers included six aircraft crew members and three accompanying persons.

Russia on Thursday unveiled the names of the killed crew members of the military aircraft that was shot down.

The Il-76 that crashed in the Belgorod region was controlled by a crew from the Orenburg region.

“List of dead crew members of the Il-76 that crashed: flight commander Bezzubkin, assistant flight commander Chmirev, navigator Vysokin, flight engineer Piluev, flight engineer Zhitenev, flight radio operator Sablinsky,” authorities of the Orenburg region said on social media.

After the incident took place, a Russian air forces commission flew to the crash site to establish the cause of the disaster, Sputnik reported.

Chairman of the Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin instructed lawmakers to prepare an appeal to the U.S. Congress and Germany’s Bundestag in connection with the plane crash to show foreign governments how Kiev is using their military assistance.

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“There is a proposal to investigate what missiles and launchers were used. Let’s prepare an appeal to the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag so that the deputies can finally see who they are funding and helping,” Volodin said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations (UN) Security Council after the downing of the plane.

At a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York, Lavrov said Moscow requested a meeting for 3 p.m. Wednesday New York Time (2000 GMT). But the meeting has not been scheduled accordingly.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence, said on Wednesday that the Ukrainian side is checking reports that Ukrainian captives were onboard the Il-76 plane.

He also said that the prisoner exchange with Russia had been canceled, according to a Ukrayinska Pravda report.

“I can state that the exchange planned for today is currently not taking place,” Yusov was cited as saying.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for an international investigation into the crash.

The Ukrainian military intelligence service HUR is currently trying to determine the fate of the dozens of Ukrainian prisoners who, according to Moscow, were on board the plane, Zelensky said in his evening address on Wednesday.

“I have instructed the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to provide our partners with the information available to Ukraine. Our state will insist on an international investigation,” Zelensky said.

“It is obvious that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, with the feelings of their relatives and with the emotions of our society,” he said.

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Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Ukraine knew its prisoners would be transported to Belgorod for an exchange based on an agreement previously reached between the two sides.

Kiev’s move was an attempt to blame Russia for the deaths of the Ukrainian military personnel on board, said the Russian statement.

“They shot their own soldiers in the air. Their mothers, wives and children were waiting… the pilots of our military transport aircraft, who were carrying out a humanitarian mission, were shot at… with American and German missiles,” Volodin said. ■

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