KYIV -- Ukraine has accused Tehran of knowing from the start that an Iranian missile had downed a Ukrainian airliner last month, after leaked recordings emerged from Iranian air traffic control.
The recordings, aired on Ukraine's 1+1 TV channel on Sunday (February 2), feature a conversation between an air traffic controller and the pilot of another plane at the time the Ukrainian airliner was hit on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.
The pilot can be heard describing "the light of a missile" on its route and then an explosion.
The recording "proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane was hit by a missile", said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after its release.
"Everything is audible there," Zelenskyy told 1+1. "Everything is recorded."
The audio clip features the pilot of an Aseman Airlines flight from Shiraz to Tehran communicating with air traffic control in the Iranian capital.
"There is a series of lights on our route, like a missile. Is there something?" the pilot is heard asking.
"What is the light like?" the controller asks.
"It's the light of a missile," the pilot replies.
The control tower then tries to contact the Ukrainian airliner but unsuccessfully.
After a few minutes the pilot says: "There was an explosion. We saw a very bright light here."
It was unclear how the channel obtained the recording, though officials denied it had come from the Ukrainian authorities.
The relatives of Afghans killed in the tragic downing of the plane are calling for compensation for the victims and the prosecution of those responsible.
The Ukrainian airliner went down in the dark on January 8 just minutes after takeoff -- and just hours after Tehran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force.
A US drone strike killed Soleimani in Baghdad January 3.
Despite video and circumstantial evidence pointing to a surface-to-air missile hitting the airliner, Tehran continued for days to deny a missile strike took down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752.
"One thing is for certain: this airplane was not hit by a missile," Ali Abedzadeh, Iran's civil aviation chief and deputy transport minister, told a news conference in Tehran on January 10.
But a day later, faced with increasing international and internal pressure, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani finally admitted the truth -- that the Iranian military shot down the plane in a "catastrophic mistake".
That admission -- and the appearance of an attempted cover-up -- sparked days of anti-government protests in Iran.
Some student protesters also called the IRGC "incompetent" and "the people's shame".