Three years ago, in the early hours of June 14, 2014, a Ukrainian Il-76 military transport aircraft was shot out of the sky over Luhansk Oblast by Russian-backed forces.
The aircraft had departed from the city of Dnipro together with two other Il-76s: the downed plane had carried a crew of nine servicemen and 40 paratroopers from the 25th Airborne Brigade. The composite airborne company carried by the three planes had beenordered to reinforce Ukrainian combat units defending Luhansk Airport, which was surrounded and was being heavily shelled by Russian and Russian-backed forces.
Ten minutes after the first aircraft landed safely, the second Il-76 was hit by Igla man-portable anti-aircraft missiles as it was about to land at 12.51 a.m. local time. Out of control, the plane eventually crashed and caught fire in a field inside hostile territory, some 7 kilometers from the airport.
Nobody on board survived.
At the time, the downing of the Il-76 was the worst Ukrainian military loss of the conflict. The tragedy ignited a nationwide outcry, with angry crowds seizing and ransacking part of the Russian embassy building in Kyiv on June 14, 2014.
A high-profile inquiry by a Ukrainian military prosecution and aviation expert group eventually led to charges being brought against the Ukrainian army’s Major General Viktor Nazarov. According to the charges, Major General Nazarov, as the commander in charge of the operation to send the troops to Luhansk Airport, ignored repeated, confirmed intelligence reports that Russian-backed forces in the area were in possession of man-portable anti-air missile systems. A military aviation expert group gave evidence that led to the major general being found guilty of criminal negligence, lead to the deaths of 49 Ukrainian servicemen.
In March 2017, Pavlograd court sentenced Nazarov to seven years of imprisonment, but did not strip him of his military rank and decorations.
The general never admitted his guilt and appealed against the sentence on April 21. According to Viltaliy Pogosian, a Dnipro lawyer acting for the victims’ relatives, the appeal hearings could start in the next few weeks.
On the eve of the third anniversary of the tragedy, on the evening on June 13, relatives and friends of the 49 Ukrainian servicemen who died gathered on the Pedestrian Bridge on the Dnipro River in Kyiv for a commemoration ceremony.