Ukrainian Rebels Gun Down Military Plane, Kill 49 (PHOTO)

Ukrainian Rebels Gun Down Military Plane, Kill 49 (PHOTO)

By abc News on June 14, 2014
The crashed Ukrainian plane (Photo Credit: ABC)

Pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane Saturday, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard in a bloody escalation of the conflict in the country’s restive east.

It was a bitter setback for the Ukrainian forces, which have struggled to suppress an armed insurgency by foes of the new government, and came only a week after the new president, billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, spoke about a peace plan in his inaugural address.

Yet the incident, the deadliest for the Ukrainian military in the four-month-old conflict, suggested the two sides were very much still at odds. Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of Ukraine’s national security council and declared Sunday a day of national mourning.

The U.S. government reiterated its support for Poroshenko’s government and rejected Russia’s statements that it was not arming the rebels. It said Russia clearly had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels, making sure the unmarked tanks were of a type not currently being used by Russian forces.

“We condemn the shooting down of the Ukrainian military plane and continue to be deeply concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by the fact that militant and separatist groups have received heavy weapons from Russia, including tanks, which is a significant escalation,” said White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson.

Analysts said the downing of the plane could bring a renewed emphasis on increasing sanctions against Russia.

The loss of the plane “will refocus attention on the fact that Russia does not seem to be doing very much to moderate the insurgency (or) the cross-border resupply of separatists,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Standard Bank PLC.

“Comments from U.S. officials are now quite specific, and I would expect the focus to return to sanctions next week,” he said.

Nine crew and 40 troops were aboard the Il-76 troop transport when it went down early Saturday as it approached the airport at Luhansk, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said.

Luhansk is in eastern Ukraine near the border with Russia, an area where separatists have seized government buildings and declared independence. Ukrainian forces still control the Luhansk airport, however.

Defense Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said the rebels used anti-aircraft guns and a heavy machine gun to down the plane, while the prosecutor general’s office said rebels used an anti-aircraft missile.

The plane’s tail section lay with other pieces of scorched wreckage in a field near the village of Novohannivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Luhansk. An AP reporter saw a dozen or more armed separatists inspecting the crash site.

The death toll Saturday exceeded the 46 who died after a fire and shootings in Odessa on May 2. At least 40 people also died in fighting at Donetsk airport in late May and a rebel spokesman said the toll on his side that day may have been as high as 100.

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