Pro-Russian separatists have shot down a Ukrainian military plane, killing dozens of soldiers. The incident comes amid reports that Moscow has supplied the rebels with heavy weapons.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that 49 people were killed when pro-Russian separatists shot down a troop transport plane as it prepared to land in the eastern city of Luhansk.
“This is our preliminary information,” Ukrainian defense spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said. “Details about how many people were on board are still being checked.”
According to the ministry, rebels fired on the Illyuhsin-76 aircraft with a large-caliber machine gun. The plane was carrying troops on rotation.
US: Russia supplying weapons
Washington accused Moscow on Friday of suppyling the rebels in eastern Ukraine with heavy weaponry. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that a convoy of armored vehicles, including three T-64 tanks, had crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine.
According to Harf, the three tanks and several MB-21 “Grad” rocket launchers moved into the Ukrainian towns of Snizhne, Torez and Makiyivka over the past three days. The T-64 is a Soviet-era main battle tank first introduced in the 1960s. It is no longer used by Russian forces.
“We assess that separatists in eastern Ukraine have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” the State Department spokeswoman told a media briefing on Friday.
“This is unacceptable,” Harf said. “A failure by Russia to de-escalate the situation will lead to additional costs.”
Pre-empting potential Russian claims that the tanks were captured from Ukrainian forces, Harf went on to say that “no Ukrainian tank unit has been operating in the area.”
“We are confident these tanks came from Russia,” she said.
Denis Pushilin, leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, confirmed to Russia state television that his forces were in possession of the tanks. But Pushilin said that “it was improper to ask” where the armor came from.
“They are in Donetsk and are the minimum we have to defend the city,” he said.
slk/kms (dpad, AFPD)