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Ukraine military helicopter shot down

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    Children and their mother look through a bus window while leaving the city fearing shelling attacks during a fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian militants in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, May 29, 2014. In Slovyansk, a city 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Donetsk which that has seen constant clashes over the past few weeks, residential areas came under mortar shelling Wednesday from government forces. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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    Olga Mikhailova, second left, and her husband Vladimir Mikhailov, second right, prepare their children to leave their home in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. In Slovyansk, a city 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Donetsk which has seen repeated clashes over the past few weeks, with residential areas comming under mortar shelling Wednesday from government forces. A school was badly damaged and other buildings were hit, according to residents, Wednesday who told The Associated Press that several people were wounded.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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    Alexander Borodai, Prime Minister of self-declared Supreme Council of Donetsk People's Republic speaks to the media in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. The Supreme Council of Donetsk People's Republic separatists claim Kiev is denying them rights, including the right to use the Russian language and asserted that insurgents were being killed because they are Russian. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

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    A boy tries on sunglasses at a street stand in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Scores of rebel fighters have been killed this week around the major eastern city of Donetsk, and Ukrainian border guards have reported at least one gun battle as they blocked groups of armed men trying to cross into Ukraine from Russia. Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied sending any troops to help the insurgents. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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    A public transport tickets vendor looks out of an enclosure isolated from the heat with metal sheets as Ukrainian miners marching in support of the Donetsk People's Republic in Lenin square, in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Miners who, according to local media, have declared an open ended strike, protested against recent actions by Ukraine's military against rebels who tried to take control of the Donetsk airport Monday but were repelled by Ukrainian forces using combat jets and helicopter gunships in clashes that killed up to 100 rebel fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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    In this photo taken on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, Olga Mikhailova holds her doughtier Maria while speaking to journalists at their home in Slovyansk, Ukraine. Olga and husband Vladimir Mikhailov decided to leave the city fearing constant shelling. In Slovyansk, a city about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Donetsk which that has seen repeated clashes over the past few weeks, with residential areas comming under mortar shelling Wednesday from government forces. A school was badly damaged and other buildings were hit, according to residents, Wednesday who told The Associated Press that several people were wounded. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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    Construction workers pause to cheer Ukrainian miners marching in support of the Donetsk People's Republic in Lenin square, Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Miners who, according to local media, have declared an open ended strike, protested against recent actions by Ukraine's military against rebels who tried to take control of the Donetsk airport Monday but were repelled by Ukrainian forces using combat jets and helicopter gunships in clashes that killed up to 100 rebel fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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    Pro-Russian men reinforce a barricade on the road to the airport in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Scores of rebel fighters have been killed this week around the major eastern city of Donetsk, and Ukrainian border guards have reported at least one gun battle as they blocked groups of armed men trying to cross into Ukraine from Russia. Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied sending any troops to help the insurgents. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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    A man looks at school buildings damaged by shrapnel following a shelling from Ukrainian government forces, in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. In Slovyansk, a city about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Donetsk which has been the scene of consistent clashes over the past few weeks, after residential areas on Wednesday came under mortar shelling from the government forces, with several people wounded and some buildings damaged in the attack. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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    Olga Mikhailova, left, and her husband Vladimir Mikhailov kiss before abandoning their home with their children in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Vladimir Mikhailov will stay a few days at home and then plans to join his wife and children. In Slovyansk, a city 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Donetsk which has seen repeated clashes over the past few weeks, with residential areas coming under mortar attack Wednesday from government forces. A school was badly damaged and other buildings were hit, according to residents, Wednesday, who told The Associated Press that several people were wounded.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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SLOVYANSK, Ukraine  — Rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a government military helicopter today amid heavy fighting around Slovyansk, killing at least 12 soldiers including a general, officials said.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told the parliament in Kiev that rebels used a portable air defense missile to bring down the helicopter. He said 14 died, including Gen. Serhiy Kulchytskiy, according to the Interfax news agency, which earlier gave the wrong first name for the general.

Ukraine’s National Guards put the death toll at 12, including Kulchytskiy, and said that one soldier was badly wounded, but added that the information is still being clarified.

Slovyansk, a city of 120,000 residents 100 miles from the Russian border, has become the epicenter of fighting between pro-Russia insurgents and government forces in recent weeks. Its residential areas have regularly come under mortar shelling from government forces, causing civilian casualties and prompting some residents to flee.

An Associated Press reporter saw the helicopter go down amid a trail of black smoke. Gunshots were heard in Slovyansk near the crash site and a Ukrainian air force jet was seen circling above. It was too dangerous to visit the site itself.

Turchynov said the helicopter was flying troops to a hill outside Slovyansk where Ukrainian forces have set up positions.

Interfax said Kulchytskiy had once served in the Soviet army and was in charge of combat training for Ukraine’s National Guards.

Slovyansk is in the Donetsk region, one of the two provinces in eastern Ukraine that have declared independence from the government in Kiev.

The Kiev government condemns the insurgency roiling the east as the work of “terrorists” bent on destroying the country and accuses Russia of fomenting it. Russia denies the accusations, saying it has no influence over rebels, who insist they are only protecting the interests of Russian-speakers in the east.

Still, fighters from Russia, including from the battled-hardened region of Chechnya, have been appearing recently in the ranks of the separatists.

An insurgent in Donetsk, who identified himself only by his nom de guerre, Baran (Ram), told reporters today that 33 Russian citizens were among the rebels killed in the city in fighting earlier this week.

Dozens of men were killed — some insurgent leaders said the death toll might be up to 100 fighters — when Ukrainian forces used combat jets and helicopter gunships Monday to dislodge the rebels who tried to take control of the city airport.

Also today, an insurgent leader confirmed that his fighters were holding four missing observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and promised they would be released shortly. Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed “people’s mayor” of Slovyansk, told the AP that the monitors — who are from Turkey, Switzerland, Estonia and Denmark — were safe.

“I addressed the OSCE mission to warn them that their people should not over the coming week travel in areas under our control. And they decided to show up anyway,” Ponomarev said.

“We will deal with this and then release them,” he said, without setting a specific timeframe.

The OSCE had lost contact with the team in Donetsk on Monday evening. Their teams have been deployed to Ukraine to monitor security situation following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the rise of the pro-Russia separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. They also observed Sunday’s presidential vote, won by billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko.

Poroshenko has promised to negotiate with people in the east but also vowed to uproot the armed rebels.

The mood in Donetsk was calm today, although many businesses have stopped opening due to fears of renewed fighting following Monday’s ferocious battle.

The separatists in Ukraine have pleaded to join Russia, but President Vladimir Putin has ignored their appeal in an apparent bid to de-escalate tensions with the West and avoid a new round of Western sanctions.

Putin has supported an OSCE peace plan that calls for ending hostilities and launching a political dialogue, and has said Russia would work with Poroshenko. But Russia has repeatedly urged the Ukrainian government to end its military operation against the separatists.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today called for quick international mediation to persuade Kiev to halt what he described as a “punitive operation” in the east.

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