SLAVYANSK (QHA) -

Separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a military helicopter Thursday, killing 14 troops including an army general, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has said.

"I just received information that near Slavyansk, the terrorists - using a Russian man-portable air defence system - shot down our helicopter," Turchynov said. "Fourteen of our servicemen died, including General Volodymyr Kulchytskiy."

Slovyansk has become the epicentre of fighting between pro-Russia insurgents and government forces in recent weeks. The city - located 100 miles west of the Russian border - has seen constant clashes and its residential areas have regularly come under mortar shelling from government forces, prompting some residents to flee.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed the helicopter's downing Thursday. It wasn't immediately clear what weapons the rebels used to shoot it down, exactly where the helicopter fell or what happened to its crew.

The Kiev government condemns the insurgency roiling the east as the work of "terrorists" bent on destroying the country and blames Russia for fomenting it. Russia denies the accusations, saying it has no influence over rebels, who insist they are only protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking population of the east.

 

QHA