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May 30, 2014

Rebels in Ukraine down helicopter

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — In another devastating blow to Ukraine’s armed forces, rebels shot down a troop helicopter Thursday, killing at least 12 soldiers, including a general who had served in the Soviet army and was in charge of combat training.

The loss underscored the challenge Ukrainian forces face in fighting a guerrilla-style insurgency that has proven to be an agile foe.

Ukraine, meanwhile, announced that President-elect Petro Poroshenko will be sworn in June 7, less than two weeks after his overwhelming victory in special balloting that was hoped would ease tensions in the deeply divided country. Poroshenko has promised to negotiate with representatives in rebellious eastern Ukraine but also has vowed to uproot the pro-Moscow rebels who want the region to join Russia.

The Mi-8 helicopter was downed on the outskirts of Slovyansk by rebels using a portable air defense missile, according to Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting president, in remarks to parliament in Kiev. Slovyansk, a city of 120,000 people, has become a focal point for the insurgency and has for weeks been encircled by Ukrainian troops.

Turchynov said the helicopter was rotating troops into a checkpoint when it came under rebel fire. Among the dead was Gen. Serhiy Kulchytskiy, who the Interfax news agency said had once served in the Soviet army and was in charge of training Ukraine’s National Guard.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. hasn’t verified what happened in the incident, but he added that Washington is concerned because it indicates the separatists still have access to advanced weapons and are getting help from outside Ukraine, alluding to Russia.

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