Rebels Claim to Have Shot Down Ukrainian Helicopters

TIME

The insurgent-appointed mayor of the east Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, claimed that pro-Russian forces occupying the city shot down several helicopters on Friday morning as the Ukrainian military kicked off an operation near the rebel enclave.

Russian state news outlet RT reported that at least three helicopters had been downed by pro-Kremlin militia fighters; however, no independent confirmation has surfaced.

Pro-Russian forces said at least one helicopter pilot was killed during the fighting, while another had been detained, according to the Associated Press.

The announcement follows reports that the Ukrainian military launched an unspecified operation near the rebel-held city on Friday morning, with news of sporadic gunfire and explosions erupting on the city outskirts.

During a telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the withdrawal of “all military units” in southeastern Ukraine.

Insurgents have taken over state buildings in at…

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