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Violence Escalates in Ukraine

Published: May 2, 2014 (Issue # 1808)



  • A Pro-Russian gunman runs behind barricades while holding a weapon in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday.
    Photo: AP

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Pro-Russia insurgents shot down two Ukrainian helicopters Friday and Ukraine reported many militants killed or wounded as the interim government in Kiev launched its first major offensive against an insurgency that has seized government buildings across the east.

The Kremlin said Kiev's military move against the insurgents "destroyed" the two-week-old Geneva agreement on cooling Ukraine's crisis. President Barack Obama said it was obvious to everyone now that the pro-Russia militants were not merely peaceful protesters and the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session on Ukraine at Russia's request.

Fighting broke out around dawn near Slovyansk, a Ukrainian city 160 kilometers from the Russian border that has become the focus of the armed insurgency. Two helicopter crew members were killed in the crashes, both sides said, and the insurgents reported one member killed.

By early evening, acting President Oleksander Turchynov said the army controlled all of the checkpoints around Slovyansk, a city of 125,000 people. He said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and seven wounded in Friday's clashes and the insurgents suffered significant losses, including many killed or injured. It was not clear if the two dead referred to the helicopter crew.

"Our security forces are fighting mercenaries of foreign states, terrorists and criminals," Turchynov said in a statement.

One of the downed helicopters was hit by a surface-to-air missile, the Ukrainian Security Service said, calling it a sophisticated weapon that undercut Russia's claims the city was simply under the control of armed locals. The agency said its forces were fighting "highly skilled foreign military men" in Slovyansk.

The Russian state television channel Rossia 24 showed one man who they said was a wounded helicopter pilot surrounded by pro-Russia forces.

Central Slovyansk still remained in the hands of pro-Russia gunmen, according to AP journalists in the city. Several foreign news crews trying to cover the fighting were detained for several hours Friday before being released.

A clash also broke out late Friday between pro-Russians and government supporters in Odessa, a Black Sea coast port some 550 kilometers (330 miles) from the turmoil in the east. Police said one person died from gunshot fire and other was wounded. Until now, Odessa had remained largely untroubled since the February toppling of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych, which ignited tensions in the east.

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