A military helicopter has been shot down by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, near Sloviansk, killing 14 people, outgoing President Oleksandr Turchynov says.
Oleksandr Turchynov said the rebels used a Russian-made anti-aircraft system, and a senior general was among the dead.
The town of Sloviansk has seen fierce fighting between separatists and government forces in recent weeks.
President-elect Petro Poroshenko has vowed to tackle “bandits” in the east.
The military helicopter has been shot down by pro-Russian rebels near Sloviansk, killing 14 people (photo AFP)
The helicopter was hit during heavy fighting between Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, reportedly after it had dropped off troops at a military base.
Oleksandr Turchynov said the 14 dead included Gen. Serhiy Kulchytskiy, head of combat and special training for Ukraine’s National Guard.
It is one of the worst losses of life for government forces in the conflict so far. Last week at least 14 soldiers died in a rebel attack on an army checkpoint near Donetsk, some 80 miles from Sloviansk.
Earlier this month the separatists shot down two army helicopters, also near Sloviansk, killing a pilot and another serviceman.
Petro Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate, won 54.7% of the vote in last Sunday’s presidential election, according to final results announced on Thursday.
After the poll, he called the separatists “terrorists” intent on maintaining a “bandit state”. He vowed to tackle them “in hours”, not months.
The conflict has intensified in recent days. The rebels say they lost up to 100 fighters when they tried to seize Donetsk airport on Monday.
Sloviansk has long been the centre of heavy fighting. Pro-Russia militiamen seized four international monitors there on Monday.
The four – a Dane, an Estonian, a Turk and a Swiss national – are members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told Russia’s Interfax news agency they were safe and well and could be released soon.
Ukraine has reinstated military conscription to deal with deteriorating security in the east of the country, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov.
The move, announced in a decree, came as pro-Russia militants seized the regional prosecutor’s office in the eastern city of Donetsk.
Ukraine blames Russia for organizing the seizures of a number of offices in the east, a claim Moscow denies.
Some 40,000 Russian troops are stationed near the Ukrainian border.
Oleksandr Turchynov admitted on Wednesday that his forces were “helpless” to quell the unrest in some parts of the east, saying the goal was now to prevent it from spreading.
He also said Ukraine was on “full combat alert”, amid fears that Russian troops could invade.
Ukraine has reinstated military conscription to deal with deteriorating security in the east of the country (photo EPA)
On Thursday, his office said in a statement that conscription was being introduced “given the deteriorating situation in the east and the south… the rising force of armed pro-Russian units and the taking of public administration buildings… which threaten territorial integrity”.
Kiev’s decision is, in the short-term at least, a symbolic step as the Ukrainian military has been starved of cash for years and is no match for what Russia has on its borders.
The real battle for control of Ukrainian territory is already under way and Kiev is losing ground.
Analysts say Ukraine has 130,000 personnel in its armed forces that could be boosted to about one million with reservists.
Kiev scrapped compulsory military service for young men in late 2013 under a law introduced by then President Viktor Yanukovych.
At the time, Viktor Yanukovych said Ukraine would introduce military reforms to create “a professional army”.
In Donetsk on Thursday, pro-Russian militants attacked the prosecutor’s office, accusing those inside of siding with the government in Kiev.
The crowd later forced its way into the building, stripping weapons and shields from police officers and raising the flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Donetsk, an industrial hub of more than one million people, has seen a number of government offices seized in recent weeks.
Eastern Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population and was a stronghold for Viktor Yanukovych before he was overthrown by protesters in February.
Russia then annexed the Crimean peninsula – part of Ukraine but with a Russian-speaking majority – in a move that provoked international outrage.
The crisis has plunged East-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War.
On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Russia in a phone call to President Vladimir Putin to help free foreign monitors held in eastern Ukraine.
The military observers were seized by pro-Russia separatists at a checkpoint in the flashpoint town of Sloviansk last Friday.
For his part, Vladimir Putin reiterated his call for Kiev to withdraw troops from the south-east to open the way for a national dialogue.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has re-launched military operations against pro-Russian militants in the east after two men, one a local politician, were found “tortured to death”.
Oleksandr Turchynov said the politician, named as Vladimir Rybak, was found near rebel-held Sloviansk.
“The terrorists who effectively took the whole Donetsk region hostage have now gone too far,” he said.
The move came as US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting Ukraine.
Ukraine has re-launched military operations against pro-Russian militants in the east after two men were found tortured to death
After meeting Ukrainian leaders in Kiev, Joe Biden called on Russia to “stop talking and start acting” to defuse the Ukraine crisis.
The US and the West accuse Russia of using undercover military to back separatists in eastern Ukraine, where public buildings are occupied in at least nine cities and towns. Russia denies this.
Joe Biden warned Russia that further “provocative behavior” would lead to “greater isolation” and urged Moscow to end its alleged support for pro-Russian militants.
In remarks to Ukrainian parliament, Joe Biden said the US stood with Ukraine’s new leaders against “humiliating threats” – an apparent reference to Russia.
The vice-president called on Moscow to urge the pro-Russian separatists to leave the buildings they are occupying and to abandon checkpoints.
The US is to provide an additional $50 million for political and economic reforms in Ukraine, including $11 million to help run the presidential election due on May 25.
Announcing the decision to resume the military operation Oleksandr Turchynov said in a statement: “I call on the security bodies to resume and carry out successful anti-terrorist measures aimed at defending Ukrainian citizens living in the east of Ukraine against terrorists.”
Vladimir Rybak, whose body was found on Tuesday, was described as a local councilor for the Fatherland party in the nearby town of Horlivka. The other man killed has not yet been publicly identified.
“These crimes are being committed with the full support and connivance of the Russian Federation,” Oleksandr Turchynov said.
The military operation to end the occupation of buildings began on April 16 but was suspended over the Easter period.
Separately, a Ukrainian military surveillance plane was hit by small arms fire over eastern Ukraine, the defense ministry said.
The aircraft, an Antonov AN-30, suffered minor damage over Sloviansk when it was targeted by automatic gunfire, according to the ministry. No-one was hurt and the plane returned safely to Kiev.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has announced the start of an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists.
Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament it was being conducted “stage by stage, in a responsible… manner”.
Hours later, gunfire was heard at an airbase which officials said had been in the hands of militants.
Oleksandr Turchynov said the airbase at Kramatorsk had been “liberated” from “terrorists”.
Pro-Russian rebels have seized buildings in about 10 towns and cities across Ukraine’s eastern provinces, which form the heartland of Ukraine’s heavy industry.
Thousands of Russian troops are reported to be deployed along the border, kindling fears that any crackdown on the rebels could trigger an invasion.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has announced the start of an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists
Russia annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea last month, after it broke away and held a controversial referendum on self-determination.
A crowd of some 200 people remained on Tuesday evening, chanting slogans in favor of a referendum on the region’s future.
A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry expressed “deep concern” at reports of casualties in eastern Ukraine, but these could not be confirmed.
Oleksandr Turchynov said the aim of the operation in the east was to “protect Ukrainian citizens, to stop the terror, to stop the crime, to stop the attempts to tear our country apart”.
Protesters gathered outside parliament in Kiev to demand action against the separatists.
There were reports overnight of gun attacks on rebel checkpoints near the Donetsk town of Sloviansk, where pro-Russian militants seized a police station and a security services building at the weekend.
A police building in Kramatorsk was also seized but the militants there have reportedly now handed back control to the police.
Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from Crimea.
Ukraine’s decision was taken because of Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families, Oleksandr Turchynov announced.
Russian troops have seized most of Ukraine’s bases in Crimea, including the naval base at Feodosia.
Earlier this month, Russia annexed Crimea after a referendum which Ukraine and the West considered illegal.
The G7 group of industrialized countries is to consider a collective response to the crisis during talks in The Hague.
Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from Crimea
G7 leaders are meeting on the sidelines of a long-planned summit on global threats to nuclear security.
“The national security and defense council has reached a decision, under instructions from the defense ministry, to conduct a redeployment of military units stationed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” Oleksandr Turchynov said.
“The cabinet of ministers has instructions to resettle the families of soldiers as well as everyone else who today is forced to leave their homes under the pressure and aggression of the Russian army’s occupying forces.”
The announcement came shortly after Russian troops captured the naval base at Feodosia, the third such takeover in 48 hours.
Defense spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the Russians had attacked the base from two directions using armored personnel carriers and stun grenades.
Feodosia was one of the last remaining bases under Kiev’s control, but had been surrounded by Russian forces for some time.
Two other military bases were stormed and seized on Friday.
Russian defense officials said earlier that the tricolor of Russia had been hoisted at 189 Ukrainian military units and facilities in Crimea.
Oleksandr Turchynov – Ukraine’s interim president – has warned of the dangers of separatism following the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Many in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking regions oppose his overthrow and the installation of a more European-leaning interim administration.
Russia is also angry at the changes, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow will not intervene.
The formation of a unity government has been delayed until Thursday.
Addressing parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov said he would meet law enforcement agencies to discuss the risk of separatism in regions with large ethnic Russian populations.
Separatism was a “serious threat”, he said.
Ukraine’s interim President Olexander Turchynov has warned of the dangers of separatism following the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych
Crimea and some pro-Russian areas in the east have seen protests against the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych, sparking fears of secession.
The delay in announcing a unity government was to allow further consultations, Oleksandr Turchynov said, adding that “a coalition of national faith must be elected”.
Russia has been vehemently opposed to the changes in Ukraine, with PM Dmitry Medvedev saying on Monday that those behind the new administration had conducted an “armed mutiny”.
At a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday, Sergei Lavrov warned other states against seeking “unilateral advantages” in Ukraine, but said Russia’s “policy of non-intervention” would continue.
“It is dangerous and counter-productive to try to force on Ukraine a choice according to the principle of either being with us or against us,” he said.
Sergei Lavrov added that “it is in our interest for Ukraine to be part of the broad European family” but against Russia’s interest to “allow the radicals and nationalists who are clearly trying to take centre stage to prevail.”
It is still unclear where Viktor Yanukovych is, but an arrest warrant has been issued. He was last reportedly seen on Sunday in Balaklava on the Crimean peninsula.
Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a criminal case had been opened against the ousted president and other officials over “mass murder of peaceful citizens”.
Ukraine parliament’s speaker Oleksandr Turchynov has been named as interim president.
Oleksandr Turchynov takes charge following the dismissal of President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday. He told lawmakers they had until Tuesday to form a new unity government.
Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who was freed from jail on Saturday, has ruled out becoming prime minister again.
Her release was one of the conditions of the EU-Ukraine trade pact that Viktor Yanukovych rejected last year.
The move triggered the protests that led to the current crisis.
The health ministry says 88 people, mostly protesters, are now known to have been killed in clashes since February 18.
Thousands of opposition supporters remain in Kiev’s Independence Square, heeding opposition calls not to disperse.
Ukraine parliament’s speaker Oleksandr Turchynov has been named as interim president
In response to reports that her name was being mentioned as a possible candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko issued a statement reading: “No-one has agreed or discussed this with me.
“Thank you for your respect but I would like you not to consider my nomination for the post of the head of government.”
Oleksandr Turchynov, a close associate of Yulia Tymoshenko, described forming a unity government as a “priority task”.
“We don’t have much time,” one of the opposition leaders, former world champion boxer Vitaly Klitschko, said as parliament began its debate.
“I want to make Ukraine a modern European country,” he said.
“If I can do that through the president’s position, I will do my best.”
In an address on Saturday, aired before lawmakers voted to remove him, Viktor Yanukovych refused to officially stand down. He is last thought to have been in Kharkiv after travelling there late on Friday night.