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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Moscow of "playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners", after a deadly plane crash in western Russia.
He demanded an international inquiry after Wednesday's crash in the Belgorod region near Ukraine's border.
Russia said there were no survivors after Kyiv had downed the Il-76 plane with 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, six Russian crew and three escorts.
Moscow claimed the Ukrainians were being flown for a prisoner exchange.
Ukraine's military intelligence said it had not been told to ensure safe airspace, as on previous occasions.
In his video address late on Wednesday, President Zelensky said it was "obvious that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, with the feelings of their relatives and with the emotions of our society".
Zelensky, who has now canceled a planned regional trip linked to his birthday on Thursday, stressed that "all clear facts must be established".
The comments by Ukraine's military intelligence earlier in the day were seen as a tacit acknowledgment that it shot the military transport plane down, although it stressed it had no reliable information about who was on board.
Video shared on social media showed a plane going down followed by an explosion and a fireball near the village of Yablonovo, 70km (44 miles) to the north-east of the city of Belgorod, at about 11:00 local time (08:00 GMT).
Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the plane crashed in a field near a residential area and that everyone on board had died.
Ukraine's general staff, quoted by the Ukrainska Pravda website, said initially that the plane was transporting missiles for Russia's S-300 air defense systems. It made no mention of PoWs.
None of the details surrounding those on board can be independently verified, but Ukraine's military intelligence said it was Russia's responsibility "to ensure the safety of our defenders under the agreements that had been reached".
On this occasion it said it had not been informed that the airspace had to be safeguarded "at the defined time, which is something that had happened on numerous occasions before".
"This can point to Russia's deliberate actions aimed at putting the lives and safety of the PoWs under threat," it added.
Ukraine and Russia have taken part in a number of prisoner swaps since the start of the war.
BBC Russia Editor Steve Rosenberg said it was clear that Russia was using the attack on the plane to try to portray Ukraine as the aggressor, even though it was Russia that launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Ahead of the planned prisoner exchange, Ukrainian officials said the captured Russian military servicemen were "delivered to the agreed location in time to be exchanged, and they were safe there".
Russia's defense ministry said the swap had been due to take place on Wednesday afternoon at a border checkpoint 100km (60 miles) to the west of Belgorod.
The ministry said a military transport plane had taken off from Chkalovsky air base north-east of Moscow en route to Belgorod, alleging that Ukraine's air force had fired two anti-aircraft missiles from the Lyptsi area south of the Ukrainian border.
The Ukrainian government body in charge of PoWs warned that Russia was "actively carrying out special information operations against Ukraine, which are aimed at destabilizing Ukrainian society".
Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine's parliamentary human rights commissioner, appealed to Ukrainians to trust only official sources: "Do not be fooled by provocations. More detailed information will be provided later."
Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of Russia's parliamentary defense committee, claimed there had been a second plane in the air transporting 80 Ukrainian prisoners, although that plane had then changed course.
"There can now be no talk of any other [prisoner] exchanges," Mr Kartapolov told Russian TV. — BBC
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