KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine said it shot down a Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bomber for the first time on Friday, destroying a warplane capable of carrying long-range missiles used to attack Ukrainian cities.

The Russian defence ministry said the strategic bomber had crashed in Russia’s southern Stavropol region, hundreds of kilometres from Ukrainian-controlled territory, as it returned to base after carrying out a combat mission.

It said the crash appeared to have been caused by a technical malfunction.

Following the Russian statement, Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said Kyiv had “destroyed” the warplane.

“For the first time, anti-aircraft missile units of the Air Force, in cooperation with the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, destroyed a Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bomber, a carrier of Kh-22 cruise missiles used by Russian terrorists to attack peaceful Ukrainian cities,” Oleshchuk said.

The Ukrainian military intelligence agency said the warplane had been taking part in a long-range attack on Ukraine.

Russia conducted a major missile strike on the central region of Dnipropetrovsk earlier on Friday.

Unconfirmed social media footage showed a warplane with its tail on fire spiralling towards the ground.

The Russian defence ministry said the bomber had no longer been carrying no bombs.

The Russian regional governor said the pilots had ejected, but that one of them had died. A rescue operation was under way for the fourth, he said.

(Reporting by Anastasiia Malenko and Yuliia Dysa; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Ros Russell and Philippa Fletcher)

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