A massive Russian Il-76 cargo plane has crashed en route to Ukraine, killing four crew, as it exploded into a huge fireball in the sky.
The Ilyushin-76 was attempting an emergency landing in Ryazan shortly after refuelling in the city.
But the plane erupted in flames as it flew overhead while on a flight to supply Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
As it landed behind residential tower blocks it explodes in flames and smoke, killing at least four of the nine crew.
Others remain in a ‘grave’ situation in hospital.
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Voices filming the stricken plane are heard saying: ‘Its all in flames, look.’
And: ‘It’s flying at us… So scary, it’s flying at us… It’s going to hit the houses, look…
‘This is it (the plane hits the ground).’
Reports say it suffered engine failure following the refuelling stop but a full investigation is underway.
Belgorod is the capital of a Russian region of the same name bordering Ukraine.
The three who died at the crash site were named as Vladimir Petrushin, Nikolai Gorbunov, and Dmitry Andreev.
One more crew member died in hospital.
Such Ilyushin aircraft have been used in recent months for transporting military equipment to the war zone.
Ryazan is 125 miles southeast of Moscow and not close to the war zone.
The crash site field was near shops and residential buildings but there were understood to be no casualties on the ground.
The cause of the crash was under investigation early today.
It comes as Ukrainian forces will retreat from Severodonetsk in the face of a brutal Russian offensive that is reducing the battleground city to rubble, a senior Ukrainian official said today.
The news came shortly after the European Union made a strong show of support for Ukraine, granting the former Soviet republic candidate status, although there is still a long path ahead to membership.
Capturing Severodonetsk, in the Donbas region, has become a key goal of the Russians as they focus their offensive on eastern Ukraine after being repelled from Kyiv following their February invasion.
The strategically important industrial hub has been the scene of weeks of street battles as the outgunned Ukrainians put up a fierce defence.
But Sergiy Gaiday – governor of Lugansk, which includes the city – said the Ukrainian military would have to retreat.
‘They have received an order to do so,’ he said on Telegram.
‘Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn’t make sense.’
The city has been ‘nearly turned to rubble’ by continual bombardment, he added.
‘All critical infrastructure has been destroyed. Ninety percent of the city is damaged, 80 percent (of) houses will have to be demolished,’ he said.
The Ukrainians had already been pushed back from much of the city, leaving them in control of only industrial areas.
Capturing Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would give the Russians control of Lugansk, and allow them to push further into the wider Donbas.
Gaiday said the Russians were now advancing on Lysychansk, which has been facing increasingly heavy Russian bombardment.
AFP journalists driving out of the city Thursday twice had to jump out of cars and lie on the ground as Russian forces shelled the city’s main supply road.
They saw dark smoke rising over the road ahead, and heard artillery fire and saw flashes of light, while the road was strewn with trees felled by shelling.