KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian intelligence official said that the country has repeatedly asked Russia to hand over the bodies of scores of prisoners of war who Moscow claimed were killed in the downing of a Russian military transport plane by Ukrainian forces.
Andrii Yusov, the spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence said in televised remarks late Thursday that Kyiv has urged Moscow to hand over the bodies of those who died in the Jan. 24 crash, but it has refused to do so. He reaffirmed Ukraine’s call for an international probe into the crash that would determine whether the cargo plane carried weapons or passengers along with the crew.
Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations over the crash, with Moscow accusing Kyiv of killing its own men and Ukraine dismissing Moscow’s assertions as “rampant Russian propaganda.”
Kyiv has neither confirmed nor denied that its forces downed the Il-76, and Russia’s claim that the crash killed Ukrainian POWs couldn’t be independently verified. Ukrainian officials emphasized that Moscow didn’t ask for any specific stretch of airspace to be kept safe for a certain length of time, as it has for past prisoner exchanges.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA Novosti news agency on Friday that the Kremlin hadn’t received a Ukrainian request to hand over the bodies.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia wouldn’t just welcome but would “insist” on an international inquiry into the plane’s downing that he described as a “crime” by Ukraine.
Yusov said in televised remarks that some of Ukrainian POWs who were meant to be part of a prisoner exchange on the day of the plane crash were swapped Wednesday when about 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war returned home.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, the main state criminal investigation agency, said Thursday that its probe into the crash found that the Il-76 military transport plane was brought down by the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system, which Western allies have supplied to Kyiv.
Russian officials claimed there were 74 people on board, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, six crew members and three Russian servicemen. All were reported killed when the plane hit the ground and exploded in a giant fireball in the Belgorod region near Ukraine.
The Investigative Committee said investigators have found over 670 body fragments and identified all the crash victims.
The committee said that it also has recovered 116 fragments of two missiles that were fired from a Patriot system from near the village of Lyptsi in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine. It showed a video that purported to show some missile fragments lying in the snow with visible markings ostensibly proving their origin.
Russia, meanwhile, has continued to pummel Ukraine with long-range strikes, with the 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) front line remaining largely static as the conflict approaches the two-year mark.
Ukraine’s Air Force said it intercepted 11 out of 24 Iranian Shahed drones that Russia fired overnight, adding that seven drones didn’t reach their targets and were “lost” on the way.
In Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown, a drone attack damaged an energy infrastructure facility leaving 100,000 recipients without electricity and left 113 coal miners stranded underground, according to Mayor Oleksandr Vilkul. He said all the miners were brought to safety after electrical supply was partially restored.