Since late December, there has been an increase in the number of strikes in both Ukraine and Russia
Since late December, there has been an increase in the number of strikes in both Ukraine and Russia. Image/AFP AFP News

Ukraine has accused Russia of using prisoners of war as "human shields" in connection with a Russian military transport plane that crashed last week.

The claims were made during a meeting with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Khrystyna Hayovyshyn, Ukraine's deputy ambassador to the UN, said that this was the first case of "Russia using a human shield in the air to cover the transportation of missiles".

"Ukraine was not informed about the number of vehicles, roads, and means of transportation of the captives," she added. "This alone may constitute intentional actions by Russia to endanger the lives and safety of the prisoners".

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, claimed that Ukraine "premeditated" to shoot the plane down and that it was a "thought-through crime". Meanwhile, Ukraine has called for an international investigation into the incident.

According to Russia's Defence Ministry, as many as 65 Ukrainian prisoners, along with six crew members and three Russian soldiers, were onboard the plane when it crashed on Wednesday. The prisoners were being flown to Ukraine for a prisoner exchange, the Russian authorities have claimed, according to a report in The Telegraph.

A video of the crash shows the plane rapidly losing altitude and heading straight towards the ground before crashing near the village of Yablonovo in the Belgorod region.

"At around 11 am Moscow time (0800 GMT), an IL-76 aircraft crashed in the Belgorod region during a routine flight," AFP reported, quoting Moscow's defence ministry. "On board were 65 captured Ukrainian army servicemen being transported to the Belgorod region for exchange, six crew members, and three escorts," it said.

The Russian IL-76 was designed to transport troops, military equipment and cargo. The aircraft, manufactured by Ilyushin, was inducted into service in the 1970s.

Everyone onboard the aircraft was killed immediately, according to local media reports. However, Ukraine's HUR military intelligence agency has claimed that only five bodies were found at the site.

Russia accused Kyiv of shooting down the military transport plane, calling it a barbaric act of terrorism. The Russian defence ministry said that its radar operators had even detected the launch of two Ukrainian missiles when the plane crashed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, adding that Russia wants to find "the reasons behind the Ukrainian criminal act".

"By committing this terrorist act, the Ukrainian leadership has shown its true face. It disregarded the lives of its own citizens," the ministry said in a statement.

Ukraine's GUR military intelligence agency added that a prisoner swap was to take place, but it was not informed of how the POWs would be handed over to them. It further stated that Ukraine was not even asked to ensure airspace security around Belgorod, unlike on previous occasions, according to a Reuters report. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet commented on the incident.

The latest incident comes days after a Moscow-bound Russian chartered flight carrying six people crashed in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan. But it was not a military plane; it was a chartered ambulance flight from India via Uzbekistan to Zhukovsky International Airport in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned of the war between the two countries escalating into World War Three.

He made the remarks in an interview with German state broadcaster ARD on Sunday. "It seems to me that the Chancellor (Olaf Scholz) is aware of this risk," Zelensky said, adding that if Russia hits a NATO country, it would be "the beginning of the Third World War".

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Experts had expected that the war would end within a few months, but Ukraine has managed to give Russia a tough fight.