Russian IL-76 Aircraft With 65 Ukrainian ‘Prisoners Of War’ Crashes In Belgorod Region; Final Moments Captured On Camera

A Russian Il-76 military transport plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war crashed in the Belgorod region, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported.

“At about 11:00 Moscow time, an Il-76 plane crashed during a scheduled flight in the Belgorod region. On board, there were 65 captured Ukrainian Armed Forces servicemen, six crew members and three accompanying persons,” the release said.

Local governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said that an unspecified “incident” had occurred in the region’s Korochansky district, northeast of Belgorod city and that he was going to inspect the site. He said emergency workers were already on the scene.

There is no confirmation from neutral sources if the aircraft was actually transferring war prisoners. According to experts, IL-76 is typically used to transport missiles and drones, and the size of the explosion indicates explosives might have on board.

The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that a VKS commission flew to the site of the plane crash to establish the causes of the disaster.

Worst Day For Russian Air Force When It Lost Young Cadets In A-50, Il-22 Shootdown

In a massive blow to the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), the Ukrainian Air Force shot down a Russian A-50 early warning and control aircraft capable of detecting targets up to 650 kilometers away, as well as a vital Il-22 command center aircraft that provides information to ground forces.

On January 22, the spokesperson of the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuriy Inhat, told national television that many young officers and a colonel were on board the downed Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control (AWACS) jet and the damaged IL-22 airborne command post.

Looking at the obituaries of the deceased crewmen, “I was surprised, to be honest, that junior lieutenants were on board these planes.” He further noted, “Any loss, even if it’s a young officer, is a graduate of a military academy, where they study for five years. Plus, he trains in the military for a few years more, and he already has at least almost two years of combat experience, unfortunately.”

This means that Russia’s supply of skilled labor has suffered dramatically with the loss of the A-50 crew. This may not augur well for Moscow amid reports that it is grappling with a shortage of trained fighter pilots for conducting high-end operations against Ukraine. “This, of course, made us feel better. Their capabilities have decreased somewhat,” Ihnat said.

On the evening of January 14, Ukrainian forces destroyed an IL-22 airborne command post and shot down an A-50 AWACS aircraft over the Azov Sea. This has been alleged to be the first known instance of an AWACS aircraft being downed in history.

The crashed A-50’s pilots were believed to have died. Still, the damaged Il-22 was said to have made a successful emergency landing, according to the Fighterbomber Telegram channel, which Russian military officer Captain Ilya Tumanov purportedly operated.

On January 14, between 9:10 and 9:15 p.m., the A-50 “was downed immediately upon entering the patrol zone near Kyrylivka.” The A-50 stopped responding to calls for tactical aviation and vanished from radar screens. A Russian Su-30 pilot later observed a fire and the descent of an unknown aerial object.

Around 9 p.m. on January 14, while the Il-22M11 was patrolling the Strilkove area, it was struck near the Azov Sea coast. “The aircraft intended to make an emergency landing in Anapa after being hit, requesting evacuation and contacting fire and ambulance services.” 

This has been the worst day for the Russian Aerospace Forces, given that Russia has just a handful of these aircraft operational. In February 2023, Ukraine released a video from a drone that had landed on its radar disc. It most likely exploded at the Machulishchy air base in Belarus, leading to claims that it had destroyed an A-50.   

Many of the tactical victories of the Ukrainian-launched Storm Shadow/SCALP-ER air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) may have also been attributed to the absence of a sizable and capable AWACS fleet. A-50Us can alert ground-based radars to the presence of other airborne fighters or low-observable (LO) land-strike missiles. 

However, as disastrous as the incident has been, it is not the first time the Ukrainian Air Force has dealt such a severe blow to its adversary. There have been multiple incidents of superior Russian fighters being shot down, sometimes in pairs or more.

Ukraine Shot Down Multiple Russian Jets In A Day

In the initial days of the invasion, Ukraine claimed to have shot down two Russian fighter jets, an IL-76 aircraft, and a helicopter. Serhiy Borzov, the chairman of the Vinnytsia Regional State Administration, claimed on social media that Ukraine had shot down a Russian Su-25 fighter plane close to Kalynivka in the Vinnytsia region.

An IL-76 aircraft carrying paratroopers from Russian airborne soldiers was shot down by Ukrainian air defense systems in the Vasylkiv region, according to a Facebook post by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

In a similar incident that occurred on May 13, two Russian Mi-8 helicopters, one Su-34 fighter bomber, and one Su-35S fighter were reportedly lost, with no survivors. All four aircraft crashed in Russia’s Bryansk Oblast, which is situated opposite Ukraine’s Chernihiv Oblast in the northeast direction.

File Image: Su-34

Two Mi-8 helicopters were shot down during the incident. Out of the two, one was probably a specialist search-and-rescue aircraft, and the other was at least a Mi-8MTPR-1 variant fitted with Rychag-AV radar-jamming equipment.

Additionally, Yuriy Ihnat later suggested that a third helicopter may have been shot down. But he claimed that the Russians were to blame for inadvertently downing their planes. The precise air defense system that brought down the Russian Aerospace Force (RuAF) jets was not unambiguously confirmed during the event’s first reporting. 

Wreckage of a Russian Su-35 that was shot down in early April by MANPADS
Wreckage of a Russian Su-35 that was shot down in early April by MANPADS

Last month, Ukraine’s air force announced that it managed to shoot down three Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers in the south of the country, likely in the Kherson region. “At noon today, three Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers were shot down in the southern operational zone,” the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, Mykola Oleshchuk, announced on Telegram.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has acknowledged that at least 10 Su-34s have been lost in combat with Kyiv troops. However, it is thought that the number of downed jets is much higher. Considering that Russian soldiers had not lost more than one Su-34 on the same day since March 5 of last year, this particular shootdown was even more impressive for Ukraine.

In what was then called the most significant single-day loss, Kyiv claimed that the US-supplied Patriot surface-to-air missiles made the kill, and six Russian aviators were killed.

Following the event, Yurii Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, made the following TV statement: “These are one of the newest planes in service with the Russian army,” and are used for aerial bomb and missile strikes.

At the time, Ihnat claimed that a Su-34 costs “at least 50 million dollars” and hasn’t been included in Russian loss records in a long time.