NOVOHANNIVKA, Ukraine – Ukraine’s new president declared today a day of mourning and vowed to punish those responsible after pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard.
It was a bitter setback for the Ukrainian forces – the deadliest single incident yet in their escalating battle against an armed insurgency that the government, backed by the U.S., insists is supported by Russia.
The downing of the plane drew condemnation and concern from the White House and European leaders. Analysts said it could bring a renewed emphasis on increasing sanctions against Russia.
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.
The plane’s scorched wreckage lay in a field near the village of Novohannivka, 12 miles south of Luhansk.
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.
Luhansk, a city near the border with Russia, is one of two eastern areas where separatists have seized government buildings and declared independence.
In other fighting, five border guards were killed and seven wounded Saturday in the southern port of Mariupol when their column of vehicles was ambushed, the guard service said.
The U.S. government reiterated its support for Poroshenko’s government and rejected Russia’s statements that it was not arming the rebels.
NATO, meanwhile, released images Saturday that it said showed recent Russian tank movements near the border.
Russia says Ukraine owes billions in unpaid gas debts and has set a deadline of Monday before it will demand upfront payments for gas supplies. Ukraine disputes the debt amount.
Also in Kiev, about a hundred protesters hurled eggs and paint Saturday at the Russian Embassy and overturned several parked cars with diplomatic plates.
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