KIEV/NOVOHANNIVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Pro-Russian separatists shot down an army transport plane in east Ukraine yesterday, killing 49 servicemen and dealing a blow to a military campaign to defeat the rebels and hold the country together.
President Petro Poroshenko promised an “adequate” response after the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile as it came in to land at the airport outside the city of Luhansk, a centre of the rebellion against central rule that began in April.
“All those involved in cynical acts of terrorism of this magnitude must be punished,” he said, declaring today a day of mourning for the nine crew and 40 paratroopers killed.
He later consulted with his security and defence chiefs but gave no details of how they would retaliate.
Charred debris was scattered for hundreds of metres (yards) over the sloping wheat field where the plane came down overnight near Novohannivka, a village 20 km (12 miles) southeast of Luhansk.
The tail section jutted up from the ground, with pieces of the engines, fuselage and other parts lying around it.
A platoon of rebel forces in camouflage scoured the ruins for ammunition that had been intended for the government forces in east Ukraine.
“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, his ‘nom de guerre’.
He had an assault rifle in one hand, a light machine gun in the other and two ammunition belts round his neck.
The death toll was the highest suffered by government forces in a single incident since the crisis flared in February and is likely to fuel tension between Russia and Kiev’s main ally, the United States, which accuses Moscow of arming the rebels.
In a telephone call with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed condolences for the 49 servicemen killed in the downed plane, a senior State Department official said.
Kerry also spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and warned him that the United States and its G7 partners would “raise the costs” Moscow could face unless it curbed weapons supplies into Ukraine and cut ties with pro-Russia separatists.