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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Ukrainian officials say dozens of people have died after pro-Russian forces shot down a military aircraft in the east, amid heavy fighting and U.S. concerns over Russian tanks entering the country.
The tensions pose a major challenge for Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko has condemned the reported invasion in talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Moscow denies wrongdoing and has previously condemned what it views as Kyiv’s aggression towards Russian speakers.
The Ukrainians Defense Ministry said pro-Russian separatists shot down a large military transport plane over the of Luhansk.
It did not give a figure, but later a military spokesperson said as many as 49 are thought to have been on board. The plane was carrying troops and military equipment as well well as food and was about to land at the city’s airport.
A ministry statement said rebels “cynically” downed the plane using anti-aircraft guns and heavy caliber machine guns.
The setback came after the Ukrainian government announced its forces had retaken Mariupol from pro-Russian separatist gunmen, following deadly clashes in which several rebels and soldiers were killed or injured.
PORT CITY CRUCIAL
Analysts say the southeastern port city, Ukraine’s biggest on the Sea of Azov, is a key objective as it opens the way to a land link between Ukraine’s east and Crimea, now annexed by Russia. However the fight is far from over.
The United States is concerned that tanks and other military hardware commandeered by pro-Russian separatists have crossed from Russia into Ukrainian territory, explained U.S State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
“In the last three days, a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 or Grad multiple rocket launchers, and other military vehicles crossed from Russia into Ukraine near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne. This is unacceptable,” she told reporters.