Ukraine chopper crashes; pro-Russian separatists claim responsibility

Pro-Russia separatists say they shot down a Ukraine military helicopter that crashed Friday

Shortly after a Ukrainian military helicopter was struck and crashed near a contested eastern Ukrainian town Friday, the Ukrainian government said it would lay siege to the community, Slovyansk, which is now in the hands of armed pro-Russian separatists.

“What we have in Slovyansk has nothing to do with politics," Sergei Pashinsky, chief of the presidential administration, said at a briefing in Kiev on Friday. "It is classical terrorism.”

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a separatist leader who has proclaimed himself the mayor of Slovyansk, took responsibility for the helicopter crash, which left the pilot seriously injured.

“They kept flying across our airspace and we decided to teach them a lesson and so to say cut down their wings,” said Ponomaryov, with a laugh.

Ponomaryov said it was the same helicopter that had flown over the town Friday morning dropping “government propaganda” leaflets. Most of the leaflets were carried away by the wind and landed in the fields outside the town, but some were picked up and read by local residents.

The leaflet featured a black-and-white picture of a masked man taking aim with a handgun and read: “Peaceful residents of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. In your native towns Russian saboteurs and terrorists and local criminals under their leadership are preparing grounds to totally destabilize the situation and destroy peaceful life.”

The aircraft crashed over the local airport halfway between Slovyansk and the neighboring town of Kramatorsk, an airport official said.

 “A Mi-8 helicopter crashed shortly after taking off, supposedly resulting from a subversive act by Russian special services,” airport chief Dmitry Podushkin told the Los Angeles Times. An AN-2 passenger on the ground was destroyed in the explosion caused by the falling helicopter, Podushkin said.

The announcement that the Ukrainian government would use troops to surround and isolate Slovyansk, in the north of the Donetsk region, comes almost two weeks after pro-Russian gunmen in masks and unmarked uniforms seized the town's administration building, police and security service stations and built barricades and checkpoints in its center and outskirts.

The aim, Pashinsky said, is to block “the town of Slovyansk to prevent a possibility for reinforcements and to localize the problem.”

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