The crash of a Russian military plane, said by Moscow to be carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war, has only heightened the trauma of friends and relatives of those missing in action. The transport plane crashed in a fireball on Wednesday near the Ukraine border. Russia, which accuses Kiev of shooting down the Ilyushin 76 plane, maintains that it was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners but has provided no proof. Ukraine has neither denied nor confirmed any involvement, but has raised doubts about the presence of its nationals on board, calling for an independent investigation. Whatever fa34GX4Q9cts may emerge, the controversy has only deepened the suffering of the relatives of thousands of Ukrainian servicemen still in Russian hands. When Valeriia Dolia, a 28-year-old Ukrainian, heard about Wednesday’s crash, it was “as if time stopped still”. “For three hours, while you’re watching the news, you don’t exist any more, you look at your phone and that’s it,” Dolia, whose friend Vadim has been held captive for a year and a half, told AFP on Friday. – ‘A definitive answer’ – More than 8,000 Ukrainians, including more than 1,600 civilians, are currently being held by the Russians, according to Kyiv. Yevgenia Synelnyk, 30, has had no news of her brother Artem, who is also a prisoner of war. Artem and Vadim were both captured at the Azovstal factory in the southern Ukraine city of Mariupol in May 2022. It was there that the last defenders of the besieged town, now regarded as heroes in Ukraine, were entrenched. When she saw the news of the plane crash, Synelnyk said she was “shocked, but not entirely”. She is still scarred by the July 2022 bombing of a prison in Olenivka, eastern Ukraine, which killed more than 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war. Kiev and Moscow blame each other for the bombing, but she is convinced that Russia committed a “terrorist act”. So, for her, Wednesday’s crash just shows that the Russian army is “continuing” with acts of atrocity. “They are showing the whole world how they manipulate prisoners of war,” Synelnyk said. “So it’s just another disappointment, and it’s already so tiring, but what can we do about it?” “In our situation, the normal state is to be exhausted, depressed and anguished.” Despite that anguish, she is determined to “fight” for her brother until she finally gets “a definitive answer”. “That’s the only goal,” she said.