SVIATOHIRSK, Ukraine - Using surface-to-air missiles, pro-Russian insurgents shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter near Sloviansk late on June 24, breaking a ceasefire declared by the country's president on June 20 and after a temporary peace deal was hashed out less than a day earlier by government and separatist representatives meant to last until June 27.
All nine people who were aboard the Mi-8 helicopter are feared dead, said Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman for Ukraine's anti-terrorist operation.
“Terrorists shot the helicopter down using MANPADS [man-portable air-defense systems], said DMitry Tymchuk, a military analyst and head of the non-governmental organization Information Resistance.
Seleznev reported later via Facebook that mortar shelling and launches of anti-tank missiles killed another two Ukrainian soldiers and wounded three more at checkpoints on the outskirts of Sloviansk as the sun set over the region.
Thick plumes of black smoke from the area in which the helicopter was downed could be seen for miles in the late evening. Ukrainian National Guardsmen manning checkpoints in the nearby city of Krasnyi Lyman said they did not have specific information about fresh gunfights and did not mention the downing, but they were visibly tense as they worked to erect new checkpoints around the region. At one they brought in 11 armored vehicles, including four tanks and heavy weapons, and laid down land mines they marked with warning signs.
As news of the attack broke, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement that the separatists had violated a ceasefire when they attacked government soldiers overnight on June 23-24, killing one.
“Unfortunately there were violations of the ceasefire from the other side. Last night there were another eight cases, one soldier was killed, seven were wounded,” Poroshenko’s press service quoted him as saying.
Later in the day, at a meeting with army and law-enforcement officials, Poroshenko ordered leaders of the armed forces to give their troops the green light to open fire in response to attacks on Ukrainian troops by illegal armed groups, adding that he is not ruling out the early termination of the ceasefire.
"On June 24 militants, despite their own promises to respect the ceasefire given at a meeting with the tripartite contact group in Donetsk, shot down a helicopter of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as the result of which nine people died. Since the announcement of the president's peace plan, the terrorists opened fire on Ukrainian military 35 times," Poroshenko said in a statement.
The self-proclaimed prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Borodai confirmed his fighters had shot down the helicopter, but placed the blame for violating the ceasefire on Ukrainian forces.
He said there would be no further peace talks until all Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from the east. "Yesterday, we held talks with the contact group of Ukrainian representatives on a cease-fire. But that all turned out to be a bluff. Kyiv didn't stop the war," he told Russian state media in Donetsk on June 23.
Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in, saying it is senseless for Kyiv to demand that separatist militias in the east disarm while its "radical" forces remain armed.
"It's necessary not to demand disarmament, especially as regards the eastern part of Ukraine, especially considering that the radical forces, like Right Sector and other radicals, are still not disarmed, although there's been a lot of talk about this and promises that these in fact illegal groups would lay down arms. They haven't laid down arms, and they have still not even vacated Maidan," Putin told reporters at a press conference in Vienna. "In my view, demanding in these conditions that the militiamen lay down their arms is senseless."