Journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Schemy (Schemes) project have identified the six-man Russian military crew killed when their Il-76 transport plane crashed in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast. Using official documents and social media, the investigative reporters verified the casualties.
The crew belonged to the Orenburg-based 117th Military Transport Aviation Regiment.
The deaths of at least three — 36-year-old commander Stanislav Bezzubkin, 38-year-old engineer Andrey Piluyev, and navigator Alexey Vysokhin — have been confirmed by relatives.
Previously, Piluyev had received medals for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Syria combat.
Comments mourning the death of radio operator Igor Sablinsky appeared online.
The fates of two other crew, airborne engineer Sergey Zhyteniov and assistant Vadim Chmiriov, remain unverified.
On 24 January, a Russian IL-76 military cargo plane crashed in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast. The Kremlin accused Ukraine of deliberately shooting down the plane, which they claim was carrying 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers for a prisoner exchange, in what it called a “barbaric act of terrorism” that killed 74 people total.
The Russian Defense Ministry said there were six Russian crew members and three Russian soldiers on the IL-76 military transport plane. Moscow has summoned an urgent session of the UN Security Council in connection with the crash.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reacted to the crash of the Russian IL-76 in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast. Their statement can be seen as a hint, but not a direct confirmation that the Ukrainian military shot down the Russian plane.
“The Armed Forces of Ukraine will continue to take measures to destroy means of delivery and airspace control in order to eliminate the terrorist threat, including in the Belgorod-Kharkiv direction,” the statement published on Facebook says.
So while not an outright admission, the General Staff’s vow to keep targeting Russian assets near the border leaves open the possibility Ukraine was behind the IL-76’s downing.
Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate has confirmed that a prisoner exchange scheduled for 24 January did not occur but they “currently lack reliable information on who exactly was aboard”.
Ukraine’s intelligence also stressed that Ukraine fulfilled all preparations for the prisoner swap, delivering Russian prisoners to the agreed location where they stayed unharmed. Yet Russia, responsible for Ukrainian POWs’ safety, gave no heads-up about securing airspace near Belgorod when transferring them, despite past coordination.
“Landing a transport plane in an active 30km battle zone endangers any prisoner exchange unless coordinated by both sides. Russia’s failure to discuss risks could signal premeditated attempts to destabilize Ukraine and erode our international backing,” Ukraine’s intelligence state on Facebook.
Mykhailo Podoliak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, told Reuters: “Comments will come a little later. Time is needed to clarify all the data.”
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