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Russia plane crash: Zelensky accuses Moscow of 'playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners'

Russia plane crash: Zelensky accuses Moscow of 'playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners'

Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Moscow of “playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners” after the deadly crash of a military transport plane in Russia.

The Ukrainian president has demanded an international inquiry into the crash on Wednesday in the Belgorod region near Ukraine’s border, after the Kremlin claimed there were 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war on board.

Russia claimed all 74 people on the Il-76 transport plane were killed, that included the Ukrainians it said were headed for a prisoner exchange, six Russian crew and three Russian serviceman.

It has accused Kyiv of shooting the down the flight, saying it registered the launch of two missiles from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that borders Belgorod.

Video of the crash on social media showed a plane falling from the sky in a snowy, rural area, and a huge ball of fire erupting where it apparently hit the ground.

Ukraine’s military intelligence has not confirmed or denied it was responsible, but said it had not been told to ensure safe airspace, as on previous occasions for prisoner swaps.

It confirmed a swap was due to take place, but said it had no information about who was on the plane. The claims made by Russia have not been independently verified, including how the plane came down and who was on board.

In his video address late on Wednesday, President Zelensky said it was “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 Ukraine would push for an international investigation into what happened.

“It is necessary to establish all the facts, as much as possible, considering that the plane crash occurred on Russian territory - beyond our control”, he said.

Ukraine’s military intelligence said it was Russia’s responsibility “to ensure the safety of our defenders under the agreements that had been reached” for prisoner swaps.

On this occasion it said it had not been informed that the airspace had to be safeguarded “at the defined time, which is something that had happened on numerous occasions before”.

“This can point to Russia’s deliberate actions aimed at putting the lives and safety of the PoWs under threat,” it added.

Ukraine’s general staff, quoted by the Ukrainska Pravda website, said shortly after the crash that the plane was transporting missiles for Russia’s S-300 air defence systems. It made no mention of PoWs.

Ukraine and Russia have taken part in a number of prisoner swaps since the start of the war.

The most recent one, brokered by the United Arab Emirates, took place this month and was the biggest to date, with 230 Ukrainian POWs returning home and 248 Russians released.

It was the first in almost five months and the 49th of the war.

Russian officials and lawmakers questioned whether there should be further prisoner swaps between Moscow and Kyiv following the crash.