Pro-Russian separatists shot down an army transport plane, killing 49 people in attempt to put end to a military campaign to defeat the rebels and hold the country together.
Recently elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held a meeting with authorities for consultations and promised to perform an “adequate” response after the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile as it came in to land at Luhansk airport near the border with Russia.
“All those involved in cynical acts of terrorism of this magnitude must be punished,” he said, declaring Sunday a day of mourning for the nine crew and 40 paratroopers killed in the attack.
“Charred debris was scattered for hundreds of metres over the sloping wheat field where the plane came down overnight near Novohannivka, a village 20 km (12 miles) southeast of Luhansk,” Reuters reports.
“The tail section jutted up from the ground, with parts of the engines, fuselage and other parts lying around it.”
“This is how we work. The fascists can bring as many reinforcements as they want but we will do this every time. We will talk to them on our own terms, ” said a stocky 50-year-old rebel who identified himself as Pyotr, using his nom de guerre.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government voiced its support for Poroshenko’s government and rejected Russia’s statements that it was not supplying arms to the protestants.
It added that Russia had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the activists, 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.
“We assess that separatists in eastern Ukraine have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
“This is unacceptable,” she said. “A failure by Russia to de-escalate the situation will lead to additional costs.”
The French Foreign Ministry condemned the shooting down of the plane, saying: “The circumstances of this criminal act must be fully established and those responsible identified and brought to justice.”
NATO even released some photos that reportedly showed recent Russian tank movements near the border.
The tanks seen in eastern Ukraine, NATO said, “do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military. In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements that were involved in destabilizing Crimea.”
Analysts believe that the shooting down the plane could bring a new round of 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.