Russian Il-76 shot down in Belgorod: what we know so far

Pavel Adzhigildaev / Wikimedia Commons

A Russian Ilyushin Il-76 military transport aircraft crashed on January 24, 2024, leading to a barrage of conflicting accounts from Moscow and Kyiv. The international community is now grappling with the aftermath of the crash. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the key developments surrounding the downed Il-76. 

Crash site and geolocation 

Footage of the crash appears to show the Il-76 ablaze and disintegrating as it plunged towards the ground, signifying that it had been shot down. Geolocation analysis indicated the aircraft’s position was near the village of Yablonovo, Belgorod Oblast, approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Ukrainian border. The trajectory of the aircraft was heading in a north-northwestern direction. 

Russian Ministry of Defense statement 

Shortly after the crash, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the Ukrainian armed forces targeted the aircraft in a “terrorist act.” They alleged that Russian radar detected two missile launches from Ukraine. The ministry reported 74 people on board, including six crew members, 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war scheduled for exchange, and three accompanying individuals. According to the official Russian agency TASS, citing emergency services, “fragments probably belonging to an anti-aircraft guided missile that hit the Il-76 aircraft that crashed yesterday were found at the site of the accident in the Belgorod region.” 

Margarita Simonyan, Editor-in-Chief of the Russian state-controlled broadcaster RT, released a list of alleged Ukrainian prisoners of war who perished in the crash.  

The Ukrainian military confirmed an exchange was planned on January 24, 2024. However, there is no evidence to confirm that prisoners of war were on the crashed flight. In fact, at least one of the names present on the list was reported as having already been released weeks before the crash. 

Flight information and speculations 

While unconfirmed, several sources have identified the crashed Ilyushin Il-76 by the tail number RA-78830. Flight data from showed the aircraft passing through Iran earlier on the same day, sparking speculation that it might have been transporting weapons rather than prisoners. Russia has previously utilized weapons supplied by Iran in its invasion of Ukraine, including kamikaze drones. 

International response 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for an international investigation into the incident, expressing concern for the lives of Ukrainian prisoners. He instructed the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs to share available information with international partners, and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) initiated an investigation. 

UN Security Council meeting 

In response to Moscow’s request, the United Nations Security Council will urgently convene on the afternoon of January 25, 2024. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visiting New York, sought the meeting, accusing Ukraine of downing the military transport aircraft.  

The Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets, said he had contacted the United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to attend the inspection of the crash site, though he expected that “no one would be allowed to see the site.” 

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