Ukraine says plane shot down by rocket from Russia
8 people aboard military transport plane managed to bail out safely, defence ministry says
A Ukrainian military transport plane was shot down Monday along the country's eastern border with Russia but all eight people aboard managed to bail out safely, the defence ministry said.
Separatist rebels in conflict-wracked eastern Ukraine claimed responsibility for downing the Antonov-26, but Ukrainian officials swiftly ruled that out and blamed Russia instead.
- Ukraine in crisis: Key facts, major developments
- John Baird announces more sanctions in Ukraine crisis
There was no immediate comment from Russia on the plane.
In the last two weeks, the government has halved the territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists, who have been forced back into the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. Many in the armed insurgency are known to be Russian nationals, but Moscow says they are simply citizens who went to fight in Ukraine on their own.
More Canadian soldiers in Europe
Ukraine's Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said data from the plane's surviving crew suggested the rocket was either a surface-to-air Pantsir missile or a missile fired by a plane from Russia's Millerovo Air Force base.
In London, Charles Heyman, a defence analyst who edited a book called Armed Forces of the European Union, said the missile was more likely fired by the Ukrainian rebels.
"I doubt the transport plane was flying at 6,500 metres. That doesn't make sense. The higher you fly, the more it costs, and the plane would have had to be pressurized," Heyman said. "It was probably shot down using SAM-6 missiles owned by the rebels, which they have quite a few of."
Meanwhile, 120 Canadian soldiers left for eastern and central Europe on Monday as part of a continuing show of support for Ukraine.
The Canadian military would not give a specific destination for the troops.
The soldiers are from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment and they will relieve a contingent from the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, which was sent to Poland earlier this spring.
The latest Canadian detachment is slated to take part in training exercises with U.S. and NATO troops.
Luhansk fighting intensifies
Fighting continued to intensify around Luhansk as government forces stepped up efforts to disrupt rebel lines and reclaim more territory.
The Defence Ministry said Monday that government troops had retaken several villages around Luhansk —including Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, Bile and Rozkishne — and had reopened a corridor to its civilian airport. Those areas are north, west and south of the city, suggesting the government's plan to form a security cordon around Luhansk is yielding results.
A spokeswoman for the separatist Luhansk People's Republic told the AP that they destroyed a Ukrainian armed convoy in the village of Heorhiivka, killing at least three Ukrainian soldiers.
It was not possible to immediately verify the claim.
Ukraine's authorities insisted again that Russia was directly supporting the separatist insurgency now dragging into its fourth month.
"In the last three days, Ukraine's armed forces have been attacked with Russian multiple-rocket launchers," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Monday at a meeting with top security officials.
Moscow in turn accuses Ukraine of spreading the unrest to its own territory. Russian media reported Sunday that a Ukrainian shell had hit a building in a Russian border town, killing one person and seriously injuring two others.
Ukraine denied that it had fired shells onto foreign soil but Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed "grave concern" over the incident and Russia's foreign ministry warned there could be "irreversible consequences."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent a letter Monday requesting that observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe visit Russian border towns affected by the fighting. Speaking with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, chairman of the OSCE, Lavrov called for the resumption of talks to negotiate a ceasefire.
Ukraine's president had a unilateral 10-day ceasefire but abandoned it when rebels would not lay down their arms and return captured border posts.
With files from the Canadian Press