A pro-Russian rebel guards a checkpoint outside the town of Lysychansk, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Kiev/Donetsk, June 24 (Reuters): Rebels shot down a Ukrainian helicopter carrying technicians who had been installing equipment to monitor violations of a peace plan in Ukraine’s rebellious east today, killing all nine persons on board, a military spokesman said.
The technicians had been returning from setting up specialised equipment when their Mi-8 cargo helicopter was struck by a rebel missile near Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine, government forces spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said.
“There were 9 persons on board. According to preliminary information ... all those on board were killed,” Seleznyov said on his Facebook page. The nine dead included a three-man crew. “The (rebel) fighters, having fired the rocket, hid in the nearby village of Bylbasovka,” he said.
The incident took place just hours after pro-Russian separatists last night announced a ceasefire until June 27 to match a week-long truce by government forces which has been ordered by President Petro Poroshenko.
It was the second time a helicopter has been brought down by rebel fire from Slaviansk, a separatist stronghold. On May 30, rebels there also downed a military helicopter killing 14 servicemen, including one general.
Dmytro Tymchuk, a military analyst known to have good sources in the armed forces, said the helicopter had been brought down by a missile fired from a shoulder-held launcher.
The truce announcement last night by separatist leaders had raised the first real prospect of an end to hostilities since the insurgency erupted in the largely Russian-speaking east in April.
But today’s helicopter incident seemed certain to put the ceasefire on both sides under fresh pressure.
Elsewhere, a rebel spokesman in Donetsk said a shootout broke out near the city’s airport, which is under Ukrainian control. Rebels opened fire on two Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers leaving the grounds of the airport, according to a witness.
Earlier today, 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 pro-Russian separatists had violated their own ceasefire with overnight attacks on military posts and checkpoints which killed one government soldier and wounded seven others.