Pro-Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian army helicopter carrying nine people outside the rebel stronghold of Slaviansk, killing everyone on board, a Ukrainian military spokesman said on Tuesday.
The incident took place just hours after pro-Russian separatists on Monday night announced a ceasefire until June 27 to match a week-long truce by government forces which has been ordered by Ukraine\’s President Petro Poroshenko.
The technicians had been returning from setting up specialised equipment on Tuesday when their Mi-8 cargo helicopter was struck by a rebel missile near Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine, Vladyslav Seleznyov, government forces spokesman, said.
"There were nine people on board. According to preliminary information … all those on board were killed," Seleznyov said on his Facebook page. The dead included a three-man crew.
"The [rebel] fighters, having fired the rocket, hid in the nearby village of Bylbasovka," he said.
It was the second time a helicopter has been brought down by rebel fire from Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold. On May 30, separatists downed a military helicopter killing 14 servicemen, including one general.
Dmytro Tymchuk, a military analyst with sources in the armed forces, said the helicopter had been brought down by a missile fired from a shoulder-held launcher.
The truce announcement by separatist leaders had raised the first real prospect of an end to hostilities since the conflict erupted in the largely Russian-speaking east in April.
But the helicopter incident seemed certain to put the ceasefire on both sides under fresh pressure.
Rebels opened fire on two Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers leaving the grounds of the airport, according to a witness.
Earlier on Tuesday, Poroshenko, who is trying to secure national and international support for his plan to end two-and-a-half months of fighting, had said the separatists had violated their own ceasefire with overnight attacks on military posts and checkpoints which killed one government soldier and wounded seven others.
His plan offers a safety "corridor" back to Russia for pro-Russian fighters who lay down their arms. It has secured the backing of Western governments and qualified support from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Some of the rebels said they would adhere to the ceasefire after talks between separatist leaders and a "contact" group of officials who included a former Ukrainian president, Russia\’s envoy to Kiev and a high-ranking representative from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, asked Russia\’s upper house on Tuesday to revoke the right it had
granted him to order a military intervention in Ukraine in defence of Russian-speakers there.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Putin\’s move a "first practical step" following the Russian president\’s statement of support last weekend for Poroshenko\’s peace plan.
But Putin himself said he now expected Ukraine to begin talks on guaranteeing the rights of its Russian-speaking
minority, which Russia would continue to defend.
Source – Agencies