KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Saturday that pro-Russian separatists shot down a large military transport plane in the country’s unsettled east and that service personnel aboard were killed.
The statement on the ministry’s website says the plane was downed at night as it approached an airport at Lugansk. The statement did not say how many people were on board the Il-76 transport plane, which was carrying service members as well as equipment and food.
The statement said that the rebels “cynically and treacherously” downed the plane using anti-aircraft guns and heavy caliber machine guns. It expressed sympathy to the families of those killed “for their tragic and irreparable loss.”
An Il-76 is a four-engine jet that can be used to transport heavy gear and people.
Lugansk is in Ukraine’s east near its border with Russia, an area that has seen separatists seize government buildings and declare independence after holding disputed referendums. The Ukrainian health ministry says at least 270 people have died in clashes between government forces and armed separatists, who Ukraine says are supported by Russia. Russia denies that.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated in February after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office by a protest movement made up of people who want closer ties with the European Union.