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A Ukrainian military plane carrying at least 49 passengers has been shot down by rebels, according to reports.
The Ilyushin-76 military transport plane went down while approaching an airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk on Friday night, a source with the Ukrainian Anti-Terror Operation of the Ukrainian military forces told CNN.
Ukraine’s ministry of defence confirmed the attack on its website, offering its condolences to the families of the “killed soldiers”, but did not give their numbers.
“The terrorists cynically and treacherously fired with a large-calibre machinegun hitting an Ilyushin-76 of the Ukrainian air force which was carrying troops on rotation and was about to land at Lugansk airport,” the ministry said in a statement.
The attack came after a day of clashes between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists in a southern port town, as the United States confirmed earlier reports that a convoy of armored vehicles including three T-64 Russian tanks moved into Ukraine from Russia and now are in the hands of the rebels.
About 100 soldiers emerged triumphant from the previously rebel-occupied buildings in Mariupol, shouting the name of their battalion, Azov, and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. They also destroyed an armored vehicle and a heavy truck used by the separatists, leaving the vehicles scorched and riddled with large-caliber bullet holes.
Mariupol is the second-largest city in the eastern Donetsk region, where armed separatists have declared independence from the government in Kiev. The Azov Sea port sits along the main road leading from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in March from Ukraine.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said four government troops were wounded in what he called a successful operation. Witnesses said they saw troops capture at least four separatist fighters. There was no immediate word of casualties on the rebel side, and Associated Press journalists at the site were blocked from entering the buildings.
Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine and supporting the separatist fighters. Russia, however, has denied sending troops or weapons to Ukraine and has described the Russian citizens fighting with the separatists as volunteers.
The renewed fighting Friday came as State Department officials in Washington confirmed Russia had sent tanks and rocket launchers to the rebels.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. had information that Russia has accumulated tanks of a type no longer used by its own forces at a site in southwest Russia, and some had recently left that spot. Internet videos later showed tanks of the same make moving through several cities in eastern Ukraine.