KYIV, Ukraine — Russia has refused Ukrainian requests to hand over the bodies of scores of prisoners of war whom the Kremlin claims were killed in the downing of a Russian military transport plane by Kyiv’s forces, a Ukrainian intelligence official said.
Andrii Yusov, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence, in televised remarks late Thursday reaffirmed Kyiv’s call for an international probe into the Jan. 24 crash inside Russia that would determine whether the Il-76 transport carried weapons or passengers along with the crew.
Russia accused Ukraine of killing its own men, while Kyiv dismisses Moscow’s assertions as “rampant Russian propaganda.”
Kyiv has neither confirmed nor denied that its forces shot the plane down, and Russia’s claim the crash killed Ukrainian POWs couldn’t be independently verified. Ukrainian officials emphasized that Moscow didn’t ask for any specific stretch of airspace to be kept safe for a certain length of time, as it has for past POW exchanges.
Some Western intelligence assessments have suggested the plane was shot down by a missile from Ukraine, although they could not confirm the presence of POWs on board.
A French military official told The Associated Press that the country’s military concluded that Ukrainian forces used a battery of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the Il-76, firing from about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) away.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to divulge the intelligence findings, said the Ukrainian battery apparently managed to stay hidden while getting closer to the target and then switched on its radar “just long enough to hit them.”
Another Western official also said the plane was downed by “a missile strike rather than any kind of mechanical failure,” and it’s almost certain the missile was fired from Ukrainian territory. The official said “it’s not yet clear” whether it was carrying Ukrainian POWs.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA Novosti news agency on Friday that the Kremlin hadn’t received a Ukrainian request to hand over the bodies. Asked if Russia would be willing to hand them over, he later told reporters that the official investigation into the incident was continuing and it would be up to Russian law enforcement agencies to consider such a request.
President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia wouldn’t only welcome but would “insist” on an international inquiry into the plane’s downing that he described as a “crime” by Ukraine.
Yusov, the Ukrainian intelligence spokesperson, said some of the Ukrainian POWs who were meant to be part of an exchange on the day of the crash were swapped Wednesday when about 200 Ukrainian prisoners returned home.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, the main state criminal investigation agency, said Thursday its probe of the crash found that the Il-76 was brought down by one of the U.S.-made Patriot air defense systems, which Western allies — namely the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands — have supplied to Ukraine. The U.S. has provided the Patriots with the understanding that they not be used outside of Ukraine
Russian officials claimed there were 74 people on board, including 65 Ukrainian POWs, six crew members and three Russian servicemen. All were reported killed when the plane hit the ground and exploded in a giant fireball in the Belgorod region near Ukraine.
The Investigative Committee said investigators have found over 670 body fragments and identified all of the crash victims.
The committee said it also has recovered 116 pieces of two missiles that were fired from a Patriot system from near the village of Lyptsi in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. It showed a video that purported to show some missile fragments lying in the snow with visible markings.
Ukraine previously claimed credit for a May 2023 cross-border strike with Patriot missiles.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said in an interview in November the Ukrainian military used Patriots to down two Russian warplanes and three helicopters over Russia’s Bryansk region in May in what he called a “brilliant” operation.
With the 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) front line remaining largely static as the war approaches the two-year mark, Russia has continued to pummel Ukraine with long-range strikes.
In Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown, a drone attack damaged an energy infrastructure facility, leaving 100,000 people without electricity and 113 coal miners stranded underground for a time, according to Mayor Oleksandr Vilkul. All the miners were brought to safety after power was partially restored, he said.
Another Russian strike Thursday killed two French aid workers in the town of Beryslav in the southern Kherson region, Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said. French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the attack as “cowardly and outrageous.”
John Leicester in Paris and Jill Lawless in London contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine