Ukraine said it had intelligence indicating that only five bodies had been delivered from the Ukrainian plane crash site Russian military transport plane A Ukrainian military intelligence official told CNN that the explosion was taken to a nearby morgue, casting doubt on Moscow's claims that dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed in the explosion.
It gave Moscow and Kiev Conflicting accounts About how the Ilyushin Il-76 plane was shot down on Wednesday in the Russian Belgorod region bordering eastern Ukraine. Moscow says the plane was transporting Ukrainian prisoners of war, while Kiev says it was carrying Russian missiles to be used in launching further strikes on Ukraine.
But recent comments indicate Kiev's growing confidence that the IL-76, which crashed Wednesday morning in the village of Yablonovo in Russia's Belgorod region, may not have been carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war before the exchange, as Moscow has claimed.
Andriy Yusov, Ukrainian defense intelligence spokesman, told CNN that the number of bodies brought to the morgue matched the number of crew members on the plane. He added: “No other bodies were found.”
Moscow claimed that all 74 people – six crew members, three military escorts and 65 Ukrainian soldiers – died in the accident. A Russian regional governor published a list of the people he said made up the six-person crew.
When pressed by CNN to clarify the discrepancy between the number of crew members Russian authorities said were on board the plane and the number of bodies that Ukrainian intelligence indicates arrived at the morgue on Wednesday, Yusov said he stood by his initial comments.
Russia Starting It failed to provide visual evidence to support its claims that there were Ukrainian soldiers on board the plane. The first video to emerge from the crash site, some of which was broadcast on Russian state media, appears to show several bodies on the ground, but no images appear to indicate dozens of deaths.
Russia's Investigative Committee released a second video on Thursday, which it claims is from the crash site, and appears to show human remains in the snow.
The video shows investigators measuring what appears to be a bloody human hand and a torn arm. In separate clips, the video also shows aerial footage of the crash site and the remains of the plane. It is unclear whether the human remains in the video are located in the same location as the plane's remains.
CNN has geolocated two videos released by the Russian Investigative Committee of the crash site, which match the location of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) image taken by Umbra Space for CNN.
The plane crashed into a field in the rural Belgorod region, north of the small village of Yablonovo, according to a CNN analysis of the video and SAR image.
An SAR image shows a collection of debris scattered at the Il-76 crash site. The debris field is less than a mile long, extending about 800 feet at its widest point.
Moscow also accused Kiev of shooting down the plane with an anti-aircraft missile system from Ukrainian territory, claiming that Russian Aerospace Forces radar equipment detected two Ukrainian missiles. The Ukrainian military command said that it considered Russian military aircraft approaching Belgorod a legitimate target, but did not confirm that it had fired on the plane.
CNN was unable to independently verify the allegations from both sides.
Both Moscow and Kiev agree that a prisoner exchange is planned for Wednesday, and the exchange is scheduled to take place about 60 kilometers west of the city of Belgorod. On Thursday, Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lobinets said in a televised interview that the swap was planned and that “representatives of our institution were present.”
But Yusov said that Ukraine had not received notification that the prisoners would be transferred by air to the region instead of by road or rail. In the only other prisoner-of-war exchange that occurred earlier this month, Russia sent a deconfliction ultimatum to Ukraine to keep Belgorod airspace clear, which Ukraine complied with, Yusov said.
Yusov also claimed that Russian IL-76 aircraft were often used to carry S-300 missiles to forward positions, and that Russia was restocking its missiles in the Belgorod region after several waves of attacks on the nearby Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Yusov's comments, which cast doubt on the account presented by Moscow, echoed similar statements made by Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of the Ukrainian air force, on Thursday night. “Frenzied Russian propaganda is directing a torrent of false information to an external audience in an attempt to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of the international community,” he said in a statement.
Lobinets also described Moscow's unsubstantiated account as “a vivid example of Russia planning a media campaign against Ukraine in advance.” He said that he sent official letters to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross asking them whether Russia had informed them of the transfer of prisoners of war by plane.
On Thursday, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) launched a criminal investigation into the incident. The GCHQ also called for an international investigation into the incident, saying “there is no evidence that any Ukrainian citizen was killed on board the plane” and that “official Russian statements cannot be trusted.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that it is too early to talk about instructions from Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the military plane crash as the investigation is still ongoing.
He described the downing of the IL-76 as an “absolutely brutal act” as the plane was allegedly carrying Ukrainian soldiers who “should have been home literally within a day”.
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