Wreckage of a Russian Il-76 military transport plane in the Belgorod region, near the Ukrainian border, January 24, 2024
Map: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1050 GMT:
The death toll from Monday’s Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv has risen to 11.
A 61-year-old woman died from her injuries.
At least 18 people were slain and more than 100 wounded by the Russian attacks across the country, including on the capital Kyiv.
UPDATE 0949 GMT:
A Moscow court has rejected the appeal of Wall Street Journal reporter and US citizen Evan Gershkovich
against his detention last March.
In a closed-door hearing, the court extended the pre-trial detention until the end of March.
Russian security services seized Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg on March 29 as he was working on stories about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Held on the pretext of “espionage”, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Russian State media showed video of Gershkovich listening to Thursday’s ruling. He was in a court cage wearing a hooded top and light blue jeans.
UPDATE 0809 GMT:
Nepal is asking Russia to send back hundreds of Nepali nationals recruited to fight against Ukraine, and to repatriate the bodies of those who have died during Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
The Russian military is estimated to have brought in more than 200 Nepali nationals to fight in Ukraine, said Nepal’s Foreign Minister Narayan Prakash Saud. The Russian are in possession of the bodies of 12 of 14 Nepalis who have died.
Saud confirmed, “We have asked Russia to immediately stop the recruitment of Nepali nationals in their army, immediately return those who are already serving in the army, repatriate the bodies of those killed, and treat and return those who were wounded in the fighting.”
Kathmandu is also seeking monetary compensation from Russia for the families of the slain Nepali nationals.
Saud added, “We have information that five of our citizens who fought on behalf of the Russians are being held captive by the Ukraine side. We are asking the Russian side to take initiatives to get them freed.”
UPDATE 0754 GMT:
Vladimir Putin is no longer issuing pardons to convicts in exchange for military service on the frontline in Ukraine.
Instead, prisoners who fight for the duration of the invasion will be granted probation rather than exoneration.
BBC Russian established the change in Putin’s policy through online messages between the relatives of convict recruits and interviews with several of the men and their family members. The journalistsconfirmed that the Russian military changed its recruitment strategy for prisoners in September.
“Storm V” companies of convicts are still deployed to the most dangerous parts of the frontline. The men receive far less training than conventional troops. Their survival rate is still low — one source said it is 25% — with their bodies often recovered after long delays, if at all.
UPDATE 0730 GMT:
Cracking down on cultural figures who challenge Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities have approved a criminal indictment against the former head of the Red Torch Theater, Alexander Kulyabin.
Kulyabin is charged with “exceeding official powers causing grave consequences”, punishable by imprisonment for 3 to 10 years, and embezzlement, with a potential sentence of up to 10 years.
Kulyabin, who led the Red Torch for 23 years, was fired in December 2022 and arrested in 2023 over criticisms of the invasion by his son Timofey, a director.
Timofey Kalyubin’s plays were removed from the Red Torch repertoire. He resigned from the position of chief director of the Red Torch, which he had held since 2015, and left the country.
Authorities in the Leningrad region have arrested artist Anastasia Dyudyaeva and her husband on charges of calls for terrorism.
The couple were detained on Wednesday. Their alleged crime is distribution of napkins with anti-war inscriptions in Ukrainian, including calls for reprisals against Vladimir Putin, on food shelves in a hypermarket.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The UN has knocked back Russian claims over Wednesday’s crash of its Il-76 military transport plane in Russia’s Belgorod region, near the Ukrainian border.
Russia’s Defense Ministry maintains that the Il-76 was downed by two missiles fired by Ukrainian forces. It says 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, three people accompanying them, and six crew were killed.
Ukrainian officials acknowledged that the transport may have been carrying POWs. However, they have not accepted that missiles caused the crash, and have noted that Russia did not make a request to secure airspace around the area of Belgorod. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is calling for an independent investigation.
At a UN Security Council session on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proclaimed a “terrorist attack”.
But UN Undersecretary General Rosemary DiCarlo blunted the Russian campaign, putting the onus on Moscow:
The United Nations is not in a position to verify these reports or the circumstances of the crash.
What is clear is that the incident took place in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing war. To avoid further escalation, we urge all concerned to refrain from actions, rhetoric or allegations that could further fuel the already dangerous conflict.
Ukraine’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Khrystyna Hayovyshyn, noted that the Il-76 was a “legitimate military target”, and reitered that Russia did not take measures to protect the POWs.
The Russian side was supposed ensure the same level of safety of the Ukrainian captured servicemen.
At the same time, the Ukrainian side was not informed of the need to secure the airspace in the area of Belgorod city during the specified period, as has been done several times in the past.
She echoed the statement of the Ukrainian military that the Russians could have been using the POWs as cover for the transport of mmunition and weapons for S-300 systems, pointing to Russia’s history of using “civilians as human shields”.
“Following the plane crash, the Federal Security Service and the Russian military did not allow emergency workers to inspect the crash site as per protocol,” she added. “According to our military intelligence, only five bodies were sent to the local morgue in Belgorod, and no human remains are visible on videos from the crash site.”
“Harrowing” Situation of Ukrainian POWs
The UN’s DiCarlo drew the Security Council’s attention to the dire situation of Ukrainian POWS.
Just in the past week, our colleagues in the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine interviewed 31 prisoners of war who returned [from Russia] in early January. What we hear in these interviews is harrowing.
Very few had been able to communicate with their families during their internment. Over 90% say they were tortured.”
DiCarlo urged Russia to allow international monitors access to POWs: “[Their] fate should not be instrumentalized.”