Pro-Russian rebels use portable air defence missile for the strike which also killed a general; shots heard near the crash site  

Slovyansk : Rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a government military helicopter on Thursday amid heavy fighting around the eastern city of Slovyansk, killing 14 soldiers including a general, Ukraine’s leader said.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told the parliament in Kiev that rebels used a portable air defence missile to down the helicopter and said Gen Volodymyr Kulchitsky was among the dead.

Slovyansk has become the epicentre of fighting between pro-Russia insurgents and government forces in recent weeks. Located 160 kilometres from the Russian border, it has seen constant clashes and its residential areas have regularly come under mortar shelling from government forces, causing civilian casualties and prompting some residents to flee.

An Associated Press reporter saw the helicopter go down and the trail of black smoke it left before crashing. Gunshots were heard around Slovyansk near the crash site and a Ukrainian air force jet was seen circling above.  It was too dangerous to visit the site itself.

The city of 120,000 is in the Donetsk region, one of the two sprawling provinces in eastern Ukraine that have declared independence from the government in Kiev.

The Kiev government condemns the insurgency roiling the east as the work of “terrorists” bent on destroying the country and blames Russia for fomenting it.

Russia denies the accusations, saying it has no influence over rebels, who insist they are only protecting the interests of Russian-speakers in the east. Still, fighters from Russia, including from the battled-hardened region of Chechnya, have been appearing recently in the ranks of the separatists.

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