A representative of Ukrainian defence intelligence has told the BBC that he “does not exclude” the possibility there were Ukrainian prisoners on board the Russian military plane that came down in Belgorod.
However, Andriy Yusov stressed that Russia had provided no proof to back its claims there were.
“There is no clear information about prisoners of war. There are only statements by Russia, of a political and propagandist nature,” he said. “Who or what was on board needs to be clarified.”
Mr Yusov, who is the first Ukrainian official interviewed by the BBC since the incident on Wednesday, accused Moscow of “hiding” information, with limited images from the crash site – including of any dead.
Russia says 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war died when the IL-76 plane was shot down by a Ukrainian missile.
Its investigative committee released a short video this evening, showing blood on the snow, plane wreckage and a large blackened area of ground.
There are some human body parts – but the footage and what it reveals is very limited.
Asked whether it was possible Ukraine had shot down the military plane, Mr Yusov said: “We do not confirm such information.”
He said both sides were using drones that day over Belgorod: “There were Ukrainian reconnaissance drones and Russia was launching attack drones.”
“Russian air defence was working against them. Belgorod is also potentially within the range of Ukrainian air defence systems.”
When pushed, he said again there was “no confirmed information” that Ukraine had fired at the plane.
He also suggested that what he called a “friendly fire” incident by Russia – hitting its own plane – was “one of the possible scenarios” that needed looking into.
Mr Yusov said Ukraine had launched a criminal case on the plane incident that would look into all the possibilities.
He stressed the need for an international investigation, with full access to the crash site in Russia and any fragments of plane or any missile – “in order to rule out all possibilities”.
The intelligence officer did claim that the specific Il-76 aircraft which crashed had been used previously to deliver ammunition and “missiles for S-300 and S-400 systems” to the Belgorod region.
We haven’t been able to check that.
But such missiles are used in regular deadly strikes on Ukraine, particularly the Kharkiv region near the Russian border. This week, dozens of people have been injured here – and at least 10 killed – when residential buildings were hit.
Mr Yusov added that Ukraine “can’t exclude” the plane was carrying both people and ammunition.
On the prisoner swap, he confirmed an exchange had been planned on Wednesday “around lunchtime”. But it was meant to take place in the Sumy region, west of Belgorod.
Mr Yusov refuted Russia’s claim that it had warned Ukraine its PoWs would be brought by military plane to the Belgorod region.
He said the two sides implemented a ceasefire in Sumy, as agreed. “Unfortunately, the exchange did not happen.”
The Ukrainian official said the two sides usually communicate about the routes they will use for prisoner swaps, to ensure safety.
On 3 January, during the previous swap, he said Ukraine was informed that Russia would use a plane.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s Air Forces chief stressed that the country had the right to defend itself against attack by Russia and would continue to do so.