Ukraine launched its first major “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists in the contested city of Slavyansk on Friday, only to have two of its helicopters shot down by rebels. At least a pilot and a serviceman were killed; four alleged Russian separatists were caught, the BBC reports, and ten of their checkpoints seized.
Back in Russia, the Kremlin said the fighting destroyed “all hope” of defusing tensions in the region and that Kiev “is leading Ukraine to catastrophe.”
“The Kiev regime ordered combat aircraft to fire at civilian towns and villages, launching a ‘punitive operation’ and effectively destroying all hope for the viability of the Geneva agreements,” said a spokesperson for Vladimir Putin. Support for Ukraine from the U.S. and EU, Russia added, was “cutting off roads to a peaceful settlement of the crisis.”
But Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avaok said in a Facebook post, “The terrorists opened fire at Ukrainian units with some heavy guns, including grenade launchers and portable air defense systems.”
Amid the battles, reporters from CBS News, Sky News, and BuzzFeed were captured at the checkpoint of pro-Russia militants near Slavyansk. “We were blindfolded with cloth and masking tape really quite tightly around our heads so we couldn’t see anything at all,” said CBS’s Clarissa Ward, who said after she was released that the captors were “quite rough and sharp with us.” BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio has more detail: