Ukraine launched what appears to be the first major assault on Russian forces in the eastern half of the country today, an attack which left three dead and contributed to mounting evidence that separatists are actually Russian soldiers.
A Ukrainian pilot and serviceman were killed when two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down by armed insurgents near the city of Sloviansk, where separatists have seized government buildings.
A third helicopter was also reportedly struck, injuring a serviceman. The hardware being used in the assault suggests that the separatists are likely to be part of Russia's military, per the Associated Press:
The Ukrainian Security Service said one of the helicopters was shot down with a surface-to-air missile, which it said undercut Russia's claims that the city is under control of civilians who took up arms.
The third casualty was sustained on the militant side, according to a spokesperson.
Reuters reports that the situation on the ground is more or less quiet, now, but that Sloviansk is now surrounded by Ukrainian soldiers:
Eight hours after Reuters journalists in Slaviansk heard shooting break out and saw one helicopter opening fire, the city of 130,000 was quiet, with shops shut and armed separatists in control of the streets while Ukrainian forces in armored vehicles had taken up positions on the outskirts of town. Ukrainian officials said troops overran rebel checkpoints around the city in an operation launched before dawn and it was now "tightly encircled."
Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that negotiations between the two nations could not progress unless Ukraine pulled troops out of the region. (Remember, the region is inside Ukraine and should be controlled by their military.) Today, his spokesman said the offensive had destroyed “all hope for the viability of the Geneva agreements," which were supposed to guide the countries to a peaceful solution for the crisis.