FoxNews on May 2, 2014, reported the downing of as many as three helicopters in eastern Ukraine came as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman indicated hopes for peace are waning. Excerpts below:
Pro-Russian separatists shot down two helicopters in a key eastern Ukrainian city, and fighting in the port city of Odessa triggered a fire that killed dozens, as the embattled nation moved closer to the brink of civil war.
Interim Ukraine President Oleksandr Turchynov said “many” pro-Russia rebels have been killed, injured and arrested in a major offensive to regain control of Slavyansk, though it was not clear if the Kiev-backed forces had succeeded.
In the Black Sea port city of Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city, a fire that broke out in a trade union building amid clashes killed 31. Fighting there represented another ominous milestone in the conflict that threatens to become a full-blown civil war,..
A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman told Fox News that two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down and two of their crewmembers were killed and several Ukrainian soldiers were injured in the fighting around Slovyansk.
Residents of the city of 130,000 in the divided province of Donetsk were warned to stay indoors as a Ukrainian “anti-terrorist operation” was mounted. Two Mi24 helicopters were taken down with mobile surface-to-air missiles, killing two military officers and injuring others, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry website. Another army helicopter, an Mi8, was damaged but no one was hurt, it said.
The Ukrainian Security Service said its forces were fighting “highly skilled foreign military men” in Slovyansk. The clash seemed to counter Russia’s claims that the city is under control of civilians who took up arms.
The Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on his official Facebook page that government troops met fierce resistance, but had managed to take control of nine checkpoints on roads around Slovyansk.
By nightfall, Ukrainian troops and armored personnel carriers blocked all major roads into Slovyansk, and the central part of the city remained in the hands of pro-Russia gunmen, according to Associated Press journalists inside. Most shops were closed, and the few that were open were crowded with customers stocking up on supplies.
The armed element of the insurgency focused on Slovyansk, a city 100 miles west of Russia in which seven European military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe remain held by pro-Russia gunmen.
In a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 1, Putin said the removal of military units was the “main thing,” but it was unclear if that could be construed as an outright demand.
Oleksandr Turchynov’s conscription order marked a turnaround for the country, which last year announced plans to end military conscription in favor of an all-volunteer force. His order did not specify where conscript-bolstered forces could be deployed. The renewal of military conscription affects only men 18 to 25 years old.
Earlier in the week, the acting president said police and security forces had been effectively “helpless” against insurgents in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the heart of the unrest, and that efforts should be focused on preventing the instability from spreading to other parts of the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.