Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a government military helicopter Thursday amid heavy fighting around the eastern city of Slovyansk, killing 14 soldiers, including a general, Ukraine's interim president said.
Ukrainian leader Oleksandr Turchynov told the parliament in Kiev that rebels used a portable air defense missile to down the helicopter and said Gen. Volodymyr Kulchitsky was among the dead.
"I have just received information that terrorists using Russian antiaircraft missiles shot down our helicopter near Slovyansk. It had been ferrying servicemen for a change of duty," Turchynov said.
Slovyansk has become the epicenter of fighting between pro-Russian insurgents and government forces in recent weeks. Located 100 miles from the Russian border, it has seen constant clashes and its residential areas have regularly come under mortar shelling from government forces, causing civilian casualties and prompting some residents to flee.
The city of 120,000 is in the Donetsk region of the country, one of the two provinces in eastern Ukraine, along with Luhansk, that have declared independence from the government in Kiev, though Ukrainian authorities reject the legitimacy of these moves.