Kyiv says that pro-Russian rebels have downed a Ukrainian military helicopter near the eastern city of Slovyansk, killing at least 12 people. Rebels in the area claim to be holding four European OSCE observers.
Ukraine's interim president, Oleksander Turchynov, told parliament in Kyiv on Thursday that rebels had used a shoulder-fired missile to shoot down a Ukrainian military helicopter amid fighting at Slovyansk.
Turchynov said the helicopter was "ferrying servicemen" in the battle zone. The news agency Associated Press said a correspondent saw the helicopter crash.
Turchynov initially said that 13 soldiers and army General Volodymyr Kulchytskiy had died. But security officials later put the death toll at 12, including Kulchytskiy, with one seriously wounded. However, they added that this information was yet to be clarified.
A separatist spokesman had earlier told Russian news agencies that the helicopter was downed in a battle on the southern outskirts of Slavyansk.
The city of 120,000 in the Donetsk region has for weeks been the epicenter of fighting in eastern Ukraine where separatists recently declared independence from Kyiv.
OSCE monitors held
Hours earlier, the Russian news agency Interfax had quoted Vyacheslav Ponomarev - the rebel "mayor" of Slovyansk - as saying his fighters had detained four international observers who went missing on Monday.
The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) lost contact with its team - a Dane, a Turk, an Estonian and a Swiss national - while they were traveling in eastern Ukraine.
Interfax quoted Ponomarev as saying that his fighters had "told them not to travel anywhere for a time but these four turned out to be very keen."
"Of course they were detained," he said. "The group of four people who went missing south of Donetsk - we know where they are. They are all fine."
OSCE condemns detentions
On Wednesday night, the OSCE's Swiss president Didier Burkhalter had slammed the detentions, describing such acts as "sabotage of international effort to assist Ukraine in overcoming the crisis."
Burkhalter called for the team's immediate and unconditional release, adding that detentions of OSCE monitors "cannot be tolerated."
On Wednesday, a second group of 11 OSCE observers was detained in the Donetsk region but the body later said it had managed to re-establish contact with them.
On Tuesday, the Kyiv government said its forces they evicted rebels who had seized Donetsk's airport on Monday. At least 36 people were killed, mostly rebels, according to multiple reports.
On Thursday, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, admitted that some of the separatists killed during that airport battle were "volunteers from Russia."
Kyiv's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov rejected Russian denials of non-involvement, saying weapons collected at the airport had originated from Russia.
Poroshenko garners 54.7 percent
The interim president also confirmed in parliament on Thursday that last Sunday's Ukrainian presidential election had delivered a 54.7 percent vote for his successor, pro-Western billionare Petro Poroshenko.
Turchynov added that the mayoral vote for Kyiv had gone to Vitali Klitschko, a Poroshenko supporter and former boxing champion.
ipj/pfd (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)