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Military helicopter shot down

Rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a government military helicopter Thursday amid heavy fighting around Slovyansk, killing at least 12 soldiers including a general, officials said.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told the parliament in Kyiv that rebels used a portable air defence missile to bring down the helicopter. He said 14 died, including Gen. Serhiy Kulchytskiy, according to the Interfax news agency, which earlier gave the wrong first name for the general.

Ukraine's National Guards put the death toll at 12, including Kulchytskiy, and said that one soldier was badly wounded, but added that the information is still being clarified.

Slovyansk, a city of 120,000 residents 100 miles (160 kilometres) from the Russian border, has become the epicenter of fighting between pro-Russia insurgents and government forces in recent weeks. 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 amid a trail of black smoke. Gunshots were heard in Slovyansk near the crash site and a Ukrainian air force jet was seen circling above. It was too dangerous to visit the site itself.

Turchynov said the helicopter was flying troops to a hill outside Slovyansk where Ukrainian forces have set up positions.

Interfax said Kulchytskiy had once served in the Soviet army and was in charge of combat training for Ukraine's National Guards.

Slovyansk is in the Donetsk region, one of the two provinces in eastern Ukraine that have declared independence from the government in Kyiv.

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