Dozens die in Odessa, rebels down Ukraine helicopters

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Dozens die in Odessa, rebels down Ukraine helicopters
People carry the Virgin Mary of Tikhvin icon, one of the most significant Russian Orthodox icons, during a rally in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. Several hundred people rallied to support people of Donetsk and Lugansk regions fighting against Ukrainian government forces. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Pro-Russian rebels shoot in the air as they celebrate Paratroopers' Day in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. Paratroopers are an elite unit of the Soviet and Russian Armies and a lot of rebels were paratroopers in the past. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Pro-Russian rebels ride their APC as they celebrate Paratroopers' Day in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. Paratroopers are an elite unit of the Soviet and Russian Armies and a lot of rebels were paratroopers in the past. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
People wait a bus at a bus stop with glasses protected with tapes from shattering by explosion in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A flag of the 'Russian Orthodox Army', one of pro-Russian rebel battalions, is seen flying near a statue of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin in the background, in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A photojournalist takes photo of destroyed Ukranian tank during the clashes between Ukranian army and pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, Ukraine on 28 July, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: Pro-Russian separatists shot the building during the clashes between Ukranian army in Donetsk, Ukraine on 28 July, 2014. Ukranian army capture the region after the clashes. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A gas station is destroyed by pro-Russian separatists during the clashes between Ukranian army in Donetsk, Ukraine on 28 July, 2014. Ukranian army capture the region after the clashes. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Wednesday, June 18, 2014, file photo, a pro-Russian fighter holds a gun during a handover of the bodies of Ukrainian troops killed in a plane shot down near Luhansk, at a checkpoint in the village of Karlivka near Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Russia is resuming its military buildup along the Ukrainian border in an apparent attempt to intimidate its neighbor, NATO's chief said Thursday, June 19, 2014, as Ukrainian government forces unleashed a major offensive against pro-Moscow insurgents. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)
Ukrainian army officer Nadezhda Savchenko, 33, speaks to journalists shortly after her capture in Luhansk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Pro-Russian fighters in Luhansk have captured a Ukrainian army officer who was member of the Aidar battalion that was fighting in the outskirts of the city. Russian TV channel NTV reported that Nadezhda Savchenko is a helicopter pilot who went to fight in the eastern regions voluntarily during her official leave as she wanted to help her comrades. (AP Photo/Igor Golovniov)
FILE In this photo taken on Saturday, April 5, 2014, Oleh Lyashko, center left, leader of Ukrainian Radical Party and presidential candidate who supported the protests that ousted Russian-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych, poses with Ukrainian soldiers and officers at their camp near Ukraine-Russian border outside Chernihiv, 140km (87 miles) northeast of Kiev, Ukraine. Once, he was little more than an entertaining curiosity in Ukraine?s politics, noted for bringing vegetables and livestock to parliament where he was the only representative of a fringe nationalist party. But after Oleh Lyashko took up arms in Ukraine's east and interrorgated near-naked detained separatists, his star rose. (AP Photo/Osman Karimov, file)
Pro-Russian fighters guard the site of remnants of a downed Ukrainian army aircraft Il-76 as locals ride a motor-bike at the airport near Luhansk, Ukraine, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Pro-Russian separatists shot down the military transport plane Saturday in the country’s restive east, killing all 49 service personnel on board, Ukrainian officials said. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A woman from Ukraine cries at a meeting with OSCE's secretary-general Lamberto Zannier at a camp for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine's east, in the village of Dmitriadovka near Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, Thursday, June 12, 2014. The OSCE's secretary-general on Thursday visited a camp in Russia for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine's east and called for the fighting to end. (AP Photo/Mikhail Mordasov)
Children, one holding a Russian flag, from Ukraine, play at a camp for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine's east before a meeting with OSCE's secretary-general Lamberto Zannier, in the village of Dmitriadovka near Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, Thursday, June 12, 2014. The OSCE's secretary-general on Thursday visited a camp in Russia for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine's east and called for the fighting to end. (AP Photo/Mikhail Mordasov)
OSCE's secretary-general Lamberto Zannier, right, visits a camp for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine's east in the village of Dmitriadovka near Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, Thursday, June 12, 2014. The OSCE's secretary-general on Thursday visited a camp in Russia for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine's east and called for the fighting to end. According to the Interfax news agency, Lamberto Zannier said Thursday that the conflict in the east "is craziness which must be stopped." (AP Photo/Sergey Pivovarov)
People hold Donetsk republic flags and posters reading "Donbas, we are with you!" and "Fascism will not pass!" as they gather together during a rally in support of the pro-Russian Donetsk Peoples republic in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Russia is supplying humanitarian aid to Ukraine’s south-east with the aid of militia groups, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A pro-Russian fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, June 12, 2014. The city has been an epicenter of a nearly two-month standoff between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels, who have seized administrative buildings, police stations and border posts across the region. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Pro-Russian fighters collect ammunition from the site of remnants of a downed Ukrainian army aircraft Il-76 at the airport near Luhansk, Ukraine, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Pro-Russian separatists shot down the military transport plane Saturday in the country’s restive east, killing all 49 service personnel on board, Ukrainian officials said. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A car burns after an explosion near the Regional administration building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Several people were injured after an explosion in central Donetsk on Thursday. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A local woman prepares to take pictures of a site of a battle between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian fighters in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Friday, June 13, 2014. Ukraine’s interior minister says that government troops have attacked pro-Russian separatists in the southern port of Mariupol. Arsen Avakov said Friday that four government troops were wounded as forces retook buildings occupied by the rebels in the center of the town. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Ukrainian troops stand atop of a vehicle as they leave a site of battle in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Friday, June 13, 2014. Ukraine’s interior minister says that government troops have attacked pro-Russian separatists in the southern port of Mariupol. Arsen Avakov said Friday that four government troops were wounded as forces retook buildings occupied by the rebels in the center of the town. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Ukrainian troops sit and stand atop vehicles as they leave a site of a battle in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Friday, June 13, 2014. Ukraine’s interior minister says that government troops have attacked pro-Russian separatists in the southern port of Mariupol. Arsen Avakov said Friday that four government troops were wounded as forces retook buildings occupied by the rebels in the center of the town. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A body of a pro-Russian gunman lies in a truck at a checkpoint outside of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, who was killed during a battle between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces in the town of Karlivka on May 23, 2014. At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near the eastern city of Donetsk, an AFP photographer said. Fighting in the east has witnessed a bloody resurgence ahead of Sunday's presidential election that the pro-Russian insurgents have vowed to disrupt. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian militiamen take a rest at a checkpoint in Pisky, some 15 km from Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on the road between Donetsk and Krasnoarmiisk, on May 23, 2014. At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near Donetsk, an AFP photographer said. Fighting in the east has witnessed a bloody resurgence ahead of Sunday's presidential election that the pro-Russian insurgents have vowed to disrupt. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian gunmen stand at a checkpoint outside of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 23, 2014. At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near Donetsk, an AFP photographer said. Fighting in the east has witnessed a bloody resurgence ahead of Sunday's presidential election that the pro-Russian insurgents have vowed to disrupt. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF *** GRAPHIC CONTENT *** (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
A Pro-Russian militia man poses aiming his sniper rifle in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Friday, May 23, 2014. At least three people died when Ukrainian national guard unit and pro-Russian militiamen fought in the village of Karlivka early Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko)
A private house burns after it was set on fire by a mortar shell, on the outskirts of the town of Lysychansk, Ukraine, on Thursday, May 22, 2014. In the eastern Luhansk region, sustained gunfire and shelling rocked the town of Lysychansk. One mortar bomb hit a house, which burst into flames. Earlier today at least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed and about 30 others were wounded during an attack at a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in the weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A pro-Russian armed man runs past a burning house after it was set on fire by a mortar shell, on the outskirts of the town of Lysychansk, Ukraine, on Thursday, May 22, 2014. In the eastern Luhansk region, sustained gunfire and shelling rocked the town of Lysychansk. One mortar bomb hit a house, which burst into flames. Earlier today at least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed and about 30 others were wounded during an attack at a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in the weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Pro-Russian fighters pose for a photo in front of a burning cafe after impact of a mortar bomb, during fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian militants at a checkpoint near the major highway which links Kharkiv, outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, early Thursday, May 22, 2014. Three days before Ukraine holds a presidential vote, pro-Russia insurgents attacked a military checkpoint Thursday in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 30 others in the deadliest raid yet in weeks of fighting. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Local residents look at a car destroyed during a gunfight, in the village of Karlivka, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Friday, May 23, 2014. At least three people died when Ukrainian national guard unit and pro-Russian militiamen fought in the village of Karlivka early Friday.(AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko)
The body of a man, who was killed during fighting, lies on the ground in the village of Karlivka, west of Donetsk, Ukraine, Friday, May 23, 2014. At least three people died when Ukrainian national guard unit and pro-Russian militiamen fought in the village of Karlivka early Friday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Ukrainian soldiers sit on top of an APC leaving the site of a Ukrainian check point that came under attack by pro-Russians near the village of Blahodatne, eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Several Ukrainian troops were killed and many others were wounded when Pro-Russians attacked a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in the weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
An Ukrainian soldier holds his weapon as a vehicle approaches while manning a road block next to an Ukrainian check point that came under attack by pro-Russians near the village of Blahodatne, eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, May 22, 2014. At least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed and about 30 others were wounded when Pro-Russians attacked a military checkpoint near Blahodatne, the deadliest raid in the weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Workers of the Ukrainian company Metinvest clear away debris in a government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Friday, May 16, 2014. Local patrols by steelworkers have forced pro-Russia insurgents to retreat from the government buildings they had seized in a major city in eastern Ukraine, giving residents hope that a wave of anarchy was over. Mariupol is the second-largest city in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, one of two regions that declared independence Monday from the central government in Kiev. Citizen patrols began there earlier this week as Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, urged steelworkers at his factories to help police restore order. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Workers of the Ukrainian company Metinvest clear away debris in a government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Friday, May 16, 2014. Local patrols by steelworkers have forced pro-Russia insurgents to retreat from the government buildings they had seized in a major city in eastern Ukraine, giving residents hope that a wave of anarchy was over. Mariupol is the second-largest city in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, one of two regions that declared independence Monday from the central government in Kiev. Citizen patrols began there earlier this week as Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, urged steelworkers at his factories to help police restore order. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Workers of the Ukrainian company Metinvest pose for a photo as they clear away debris in a government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Friday, May 16, 2014. Local patrols by steelworkers have forced pro-Russia insurgents to retreat from the government buildings they had seized in a major city in eastern Ukraine, giving residents hope that a wave of violence was over. Mariupol is the second-largest city in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, one of two regions that declared independence Monday from the central government in Kiev. Citizen patrols began there earlier this week as Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, urged steelworkers at his factories to help police restore order.(AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
The Azovstal metallurgical plant is silhouetted against the sky in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Friday, May 16, 2014. Local patrols by steelworkers have forced pro-Russia insurgents to retreat from the government buildings they had seized in a major city in eastern Ukraine, giving residents hope that a wave of violence was over. Mariupol is the second-largest city in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, one of two regions that declared independence Monday from the central government in Kiev. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Ukrainian police officers with workers of the Ukrainian company Metinvest patrol in a street in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Friday, May 16, 2014. Local patrols by steelworkers have forced pro-Russia insurgents to retreat from the government buildings they had seized in a major city in eastern Ukraine, giving residents hope that a wave of violence was over. Mariupol is the second-largest city in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, one of two regions that declared independence Monday from the central government in Kiev. Citizen patrols began there earlier this week as Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, urged steelworkers at his factories to help police restore order.(AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Gunmen hold their weapons while pro-Russian protesters listen to a speaker as they declare independence for the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine on Monday, May 12, 2014. Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions following their contentious referendum ballot. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Pro-Russian gunmen and activists react while listening to a speaker as they declare independence for the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine on Monday, May 12, 2014. Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions following their contentious referendum ballot. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A local resident casts a shadow leaving a booth to cast her ballot at a polling station in Luhansk, Ukraine, on Sunday, May 11, 2014. Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine cast ballots Sunday in referendums, which seek approval for declaring sovereign people's republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A gunman stands guard as pro-Russian protesters listen to a speaker as they declare independence for the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine on Monday, May 12, 2014. The words on the nameplate read "Luhansk". Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions following their contentious referendum ballot. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A child is held at a window, in Odessa, Ukraine, Monday, May 12, 2014. The Kremlin made it clear Monday that Moscow has no intention of immediately annexing two regions in eastern Ukraine after a weekend referendum there showed most voters allegedly backing sovereignty. Ukraine's central government and the West strongly criticized Sunday's hastily arranged, unofficial ballot in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
The chief of commission that organized the recent referendum ballot Alexander Malyhin, center, speaks to armed pro-Russian men at an administration building in the eastern Ukraine city of Luhansk, Monday, May 12, 2014. Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Wife of Alexander Afendikov, 61, a church watchman, who was killed by shrapnel near the church during shelling by Ukrainian government forces, mourns holding his hand during a farewell ceremony in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Heavy fighting raged near Krasnyi Liman, just east of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region that has been the epicenter of violence during the past two months. (AP Photo/Andrei Petrov)
Pro-Russian people listen to insurgent leader Denis Pushilin behind barricades in front of a regional administration building that was seized by pro-Russian activists in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, May 12, 2014. The referendum balloting Sunday in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which together have 6.5 million people, was condemned as a sham and a violation of international law by Kiev’s interim government and other western powers. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Relatives cry around the coffin of 17 year-old Vadim Papura during a religious service outside his apartment block, in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday May 6, 2014. Papura died after jumping out of the burning trade union building in an attempt to escape Friday's fire that killed most of the 40 people that died after riots erupted last Friday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Pro-Russian protesters, reflected in a puddle, applaud a speaker as they declare independence for the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine on Monday, May 12, 2014. Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions following their contentious referendum ballot. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter (R) walk into a hall to attend a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, on May 7, 2014. Putin called on separatists in east Ukraine on Wednesday to postpone a referendum on independence for the mostly Russian-speaking region and said Moscow had withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / POOL / SERGEI KARPUKHIN (Photo credit should read SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a joint news conference with Swiss Federal President Didier Burkhalter in the Kremlin in Moscow, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin told diplomats Wednesday as he urged insurgents in southeast Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum Sunday on autonomy. (AP Photo/Sergei Karpukhin, Pool)
A man guards a road intersection as pro-Russian activists strengthen the barricades in front of the Ukrainian regional office of the Security Service in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin told diplomats Wednesday as he urged insurgents in southeastern Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum Sunday on autonomy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Masked pro-Russian activists strengthen the barricades in front of the Ukrainian regional office of the Security Service in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin told diplomats Wednesday as he urged insurgents in southeastern Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum Sunday on autonomy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, centre, talks with Ukrainian soldiers at Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russian President Putin on Wednesday announced that Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, and called on Ukraine’s military to halt operations against pro-Russia activists who have seized government buildings and police stations in cities in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, inspects a Ukrainian army APC on the road at Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russian President Putin on Wednesday announced that Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, and called on Ukraine’s military to halt operations against pro-Russia activists who have seized government buildings and police stations in cities in eastern Ukraine.(AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, center, shake hands with a Ukrainian soldier at a block post on the road at Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Ukrainian military operations that began Monday to expunge pro-Russia forces from the city of Slovyansk were the interim government's most ambitious effort so far to quell weeks of unrest in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko, Pool)
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, right, sits on top of an APC as he speak with a Ukrainian soldier at a block post on the road at Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Ukrainian military operations that began Monday to expunge pro-Russia forces from the city of Slovyansk were the interim government's most ambitious effort so far to quell weeks of unrest in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko, Pool)
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, right, shake hands with Ukrainian soldiers at a block post on the road at Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Ukrainian military operations that began Monday to expunge pro-Russia forces from the city of Slovyansk were the interim government's most ambitious effort so far to quell weeks of unrest in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko, Pool)
Friends and relatives carry the coffin of 21-year old nurse Yulia Izotova during her funeral in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 5, 2014. Witnesses say Izotova was killed by shots from a Ukrainian military column on the road near Kramatorsk. Ukraine sent an elite national guard unit to re-establish control Monday over the southern port of Odessa and government troops fought pitched gunbattles with a pro-Russia militia around an eastern city. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
Relatives cry around the coffin of 17 year-old Vadim Papura during a religious service outside his apartment block, in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday May 6, 2014. Papura died after jumping out of the burning trade union building in an attempt to escape Friday's fire that killed most of the 40 people that died after riots erupted last Friday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Relatives cry around the coffin of 17 year-old Vadim Papura during a religious service outside his apartment block, in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday May 6, 2014. Papura died after jumping out of the burning trade union building in an attempt to escape Friday's fire that killed most of the 40 people that died after riots erupted last Friday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
In this image taken from Rossia 24 television channel TV, an injured Ukrainian military helicopter pilot is assisted by pro-Russian activists after he was shot down in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday May 2, 2014. Pro-Russia forces shot down two Ukrainian helicopters Friday as Ukraine launched its first major offensive against an insurgency that has seized government buildings in the east. The Kremlin said Kiev's move against the insurgents "destroyed" hopes for peace in the region. (AP Photo/Rossia 24 Television Channel) TV OUT
In this image taken from Rossia 24 television channel TV, an injured Ukrainian military helicopter pilot is assisted by pro-Russian activists after he was shot down in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday May 2, 2014. Pro-Russia forces shot down two Ukrainian helicopters Friday as Ukraine launched its first major offensive against an insurgency that has seized government buildings in the east. The Kremlin said Kiev's move against the insurgents "destroyed" hopes for peace in the region. (AP Photo/Rossia 24 Television Channel) TV OUT
Friends and relatives carry the coffin of 21-year old nurse Yulia Izotova during her funeral in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 5, 2014. Witnesses say Izotova was killed by shots from a Ukrainian military column on the road near Kramatorsk. Ukraine sent an elite national guard unit to re-establish control Monday over the southern port of Odessa and government troops fought pitched gunbattles with a pro-Russia militia around an eastern city. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
In this image taken from Rossia 24 television channel TV, an injured Ukrainian military helicopter pilot is assisted by pro-Russian activists after he was shot down in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday May 2, 2014. Pro-Russia forces shot down two Ukrainian helicopters Friday as Ukraine launched its first major offensive against an insurgency that has seized government buildings in the east. The Kremlin said Kiev's move against the insurgents "destroyed" hopes for peace in the region. (AP Photo/Rossia 24 Television Channel) TV OUT
In this image taken from Rossia 24 television channel TV, an injured Ukrainian military helicopter pilot is assisted by pro-Russian activists after he was shot down in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday May 2, 2014. Pro-Russia forces shot down two Ukrainian helicopters Friday as Ukraine launched its first major offensive against an insurgency that has seized government buildings in the east. The Kremlin said Kiev's move against the insurgents "destroyed" hopes for peace in the region. (AP Photo/Rossia 24 Television Channel) TV OUT
Ukrainian soldiers stand guard at a road leading into Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 2, 2014. Ukraine launched what appeared to be its first major assault against pro-Russian forces who have seized government buildings in the country's east, with fighting breaking out Friday in a city that has become the focus of the insurgency. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
This image taken from video shows Ukrainian government troops guard a checkpoint just outside Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 2, 2014. Ukraine launched what appeared to be its first major assault against pro-Russian forces who have seized government buildings in the country's east, with fighting breaking out Friday in a city that has become the focus of the insurgency. (AP Photo/Andrei Petrov)
A Pro-Russian activist, right, speaks with police officers during clashes in front of the regional administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, May 1, 2014. Anti-government demonstrators in Donetsk have stormed the local prosecutor's office. The clash came after a march by several hundred people carrying flags of the Donetsk People's Republic, a movement that seeks either greater autonomy from the central government, or independence and possible annexation by Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Smoke rises from an explosion near a children's hospital following shelling from Ukrainian government forces in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Heavy fighting raged near Krasnyi Liman, just east of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region that has been the epicenter of violence during the past two months. (AP Photo/Andrei Petrov)
A Ukrainian military helicopter lands at a checkpoint which troops seized in the early morning in the village of Andreevka, 7 kms from the centre of the southern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on May 2, 2014. Ukraine's military lost two helicopters and two servicemen on May 2 in a deadly offensive launched just before dawn against pro-Russian rebels holding the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, insurgents and authorities said. AFP PHOTO / VASILY MAXIMOV (Photo credit should read VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier stands guard at a road leading into Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 2, 2014. Ukraine launched what appeared to be its first major assault against pro-Russian forces who have seized government buildings in the country's east, with fighting breaking out Friday in a city that has become the focus of the insurgency. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - MAY 2: The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced that four pro-Russian separatists, who shot allegedly two Ukrainian helicopters down detained in Donetsk, Ukraine on May 2, 2014. Two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down, killing a pilot and serviceman during military operations against armed pro-Russian separatists in the east of Slavyansk on Friday. (Photo by Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A helicopter lands near a tank at a checkpoint seized in the early morning in the village of Andreevka, 7 km from the center of the southern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on May 2, 2014. Ukraine's military lost two helicopters and two servicemen on May 2 in a deadly offensive launched just before dawn against pro-Russian rebels holding the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, insurgents and authorities said. AFP PHOTO / VASILY MAXIMOV (Photo credit should read VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian military transport helicopters maneuver during training near Novocherkassk, Rostov region, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Ukrainian border, Russia, Saturday, April 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
An army helicopter flies over Ukrainian government troops guard at the checkpoint near village of Dolina, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, April 26, 2014. Ukrainian authorities are undertaking a security operation to liberate the nearby city of Slovyansk, which is currently controlled by an armed pro-Russian insurgency. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A pro-Russian gunman prepares his weapon as his comrades are about to storm a regional police station building in Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo)
A Pro-Russian activist throws a Ukraine flag out of the window as other celebrate the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A group of Ukrainian police officers stand outside the administration building which has been captured by Pro-Russian activists in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The Ukrainian police capitulated their position without a fight. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists storm an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A group of Ukrainian police officers leave the administration building which has been captured by Pro-Russian activists in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The Ukrainian police capitulated their position without a fight. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian, top, and a Donbas Republic flag are seen atop an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. Dombas is a region of Ukraine, which separatists want to create a separate republic. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A Pro-Russian activist waves a Donbas Republic flag over a crowd celebrating the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A ro-Russian activist sitting at a barricade at the regional administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. The pro-Russian action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Masked pro-Russian activists march to storm an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists, one of them holds a Kalashnikov gun, as they guard an entrance to the captured administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists applaud, celebrating the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Masked pro-Russian activists waving the flag of the Crimea city of Sevastopol gather together to storm an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists with Orthodox icons pray celebrating the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A pro-Russian activist storms an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists storm an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists with an Orthodox icon look at Russian and Donbas Republic flags celebrating the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A Pro-Russian activist waves a Donbas Republic flag over a crowd celebrating the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. Dombas is a region of Ukraine, which separatists want to create a separate republic. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists sit at a barricade at the regional administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. The pro-Russian action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A Pro-Russian activist waves a stick celebrating the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists storm an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists trample a Ukraine flag as other celebrate the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian activists storm an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A Pro-Russian activist waves a Donbas Republic flag over a crowd celebrating the capture of an administration building in the center of Luhansk, Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, as demonstrators demand greater autonomy for Ukraine's regions. The action on Tuesday further raises tensions in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns. Dombas is a region of Ukraine, which separatists want to create a separate republic. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Relatives cry around the coffin of 17 year-old Vadim Papura during a religious service outside his apartment block, in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday May 6, 2014. Papura died after jumping out of the burning trade union building in an attempt to escape Friday's fire that killed most of the 40 people that died after riots erupted last Friday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Relatives cry around the coffin of 17 year-old Vadim Papura during a religious service outside his apartment block, in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday May 6, 2014. Papura died after jumping out of the burning trade union building in an attempt to escape Friday's fire that killed most of the 40 people that died after riots erupted last Friday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Relatives cry around the coffin of 17 year-old Vadim Papura during a religious service outside his apartment block, in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday May 6, 2014. Papura died after jumping out of the burning trade union building in an attempt to escape Friday's fire that killed most of the 40 people that died after riots erupted last Friday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A girl stands in a tent in a camp for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine's east on the border with Ukraine in the town of Donetsk in Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, June 20, 2014. Clashes between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels flared ahead of the publication of a presidential peace plan that includes a unilateral cease-fire. (AP Photo/Sergey Pivovarov)
A Ukrainian soldier closes a gate of a Ukrainian military unit, damaged after pro-Russian fighters' attack in the city of Artyomovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, June 20, 2014. Seven Ukrainian troops were killed in overnight fighting in the restive east, an official said Friday, as clashes between government forces and pro-Russia rebels flared ahead of the publication of a presidential peace plan that includes a unilateral cease-fire. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A man examines a destroyed building after fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian fighters in city of Artyomovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, June 20, 2014. Seven Ukrainian troops were killed in overnight fighting in the restive east, an official said Friday, as clashes between government forces and pro-Russia rebels flared ahead of the publication of a presidential peace plan that includes a unilateral cease-fire. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A girlfriend and a relative say their goodbyes to a new volunteer recruit of the Ukrainian army 'Azov' battalion after a military oath ceremony in Kiev and before his contingent heads towards eastern regions, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army 'Donbass' battalion take a military oath during a ceremony of the National Guard unit near the Novi Petrivtsi village not far from Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army 'Donbass' battalion take part in a military oath ceremony of the National Guard near the Novi Petrivtsi village not far from Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army 'Azov' battalion take part in a military oath ceremony in Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
A new volunteer recruit of the Ukrainian army 'Donbass' battalion flashes a 'victory sign' during a military oath ceremony of the National Guard near the Novi Petrivtsi village not far from Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Igor Strelkov, a pro-Russian rebel commander speaks to the media in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 28, 2014. Igor Strelkov held a briefing about a military situation in the Donetsk region on Monday evening. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Igor Strelkov, a pro-Russian rebel commander speaks to the media in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 28, 2014. Igor Strelkov held a briefing about a military situation in the Donetsk region on Monday evening. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A police officer stands guard as a woman walks past pieces of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Petropavlivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A Dutch investigator examines the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Rassipne, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
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By Maria Tsvetkova

(Reuters) - Dozens of people were killed in a fire and others were shot dead when fighting between pro- and anti-Russian groups broke out on the streets of Odessa on Ukraine's Black Sea coast on Friday, opening a new front in a conflict that has split the country.

In the east, pro-Russian separatists brought down two Ukrainian military helicopters involved in a pre-dawn operation to try to dislodge the militants from their strongholds in the town of Slaviansk.

The separatists said three of their number had been killed, and two civilians, while the defense ministry said two crew from the downed helicopters died and two other servicemen were killed when separatists attacked them on Friday evening.

"Heavy fighting is continuing," the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said. Russian media also said fighting had broken out overnight near the town of Kramatorsk, just south of Slaviansk, but Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.

Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine has been the focus of concern in Western capitals since pro-Russian gunmen overran the region after Moscow annexed mainly Russian Crimea from Ukraine in March. Clashes had also occurred in largely Russian-speaking Odessa, not far from Crimea, but no one had died there before.

Police said three people were shot dead and dozens of others wounded in running battles between people backing Kiev and pro-Russian activists in the port city. Another man died later and a further 31 people were killed when a trade union building was set on fire as fighting continued into the evening, police said.

The total death toll in Odessa later reached 43, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Ukrainian forces had fired on civilians from the air in Slaviansk in a "punitive operation" that destroyed an international peace plan. Moscow has tens of thousands of troops massed on the border and claims the right to invade if needed to protect Russian speakers.

The Western-backed government in Kiev said the use of missiles to bring down its helicopters showed Russian forces were already in the town and also that Russian "armed saboteurs" had tried to enter the country overnight, but were pushed back by Ukrainian border troops.

Moscow denies involvement with the rebels and its Security Service said the incursion report was untrue.

Kiev said it was forced to act in eastern Ukraine because Moscow was backing groups there who were "putting civilians in danger, seizing hostages and creating an atmosphere of terror and violence".

Reuters journalists in Slaviansk, the most heavily fortified bastion of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, heard shooting and saw one helicopter opening fire before dawn. Later in the day, the city was largely quiet, with shops shut and armed separatists in control of the streets.

Advancing Ukrainian forces in armored vehicles took up positions in the suburbs, but rebels still controlled most of the town of 130,000.

Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said the operation had been complicated by the rebels' use of human shields and had not progressed as quickly as had been hoped.

SOUND OF CANNON

The growing chaos is overshadowing a presidential election the pro-Western leadership in Kiev is planning for May 25. The rebels are planning a vote on May 11 to seek a mandate to break with Kiev, like one held in Crimea before Moscow took it over.

Moscow moved in on Crimea following the overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president by protesters angered by his decision to scrap a trade deal with Europe.

The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on individuals over the Ukraine crisis but they have had limited impact. U.S. President Barack Obama said the next step would be sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy and they would be imposed if Moscow impeded the Ukrainian presidential poll.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting Washington, told a joint news conference with Obama that the elections on May 25 were critical and sectoral sanctions were ready.

The energy and banking sectors are likely targets.

On the square outside city hall in Slaviansk, about 100 people gathered on Friday and said they were appealing to Putin to send troops to help them.

Businesswoman Tamara Voshchanaya said: "What can you think when the sound of cannon makes you jump out of bed, when helicopters are flying over and shooting at our guys?

On the town's southern outskirts, eight Ukrainian armored personnel carriers cut off the road but faced a cordon of local residents shouting at them to go home. Some rebels erected barricades of trees.

Putin's popularity has soared with the seizure of Crimea and talk of restoring Moscow's former empire. This week he restored the Soviet-era tradition of holding a May Day parade on Red Square, where marchers carried banners hailing the acquisition of Ukrainian territory.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Russia's actions in Ukraine had shattered the myth of European security in the post-Cold War era and said NATO allies had increased the danger by failing to meet their defense spending pledges.

The European Union said it was watching events in eastern Ukraine with growing concern. But Kiev is not a member of NATO and Western leaders have made clear they will not fight to defend Ukraine.

HELICOPTERS DOWN

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said two Mi-24 attack helicopters had been shot down by shoulder-launched missiles while on patrol overnight around Slaviansk. Two airmen were killed and others wounded.

Other Ukrainian officials and the separatist leader in Slaviansk said earlier that one airman was taken prisoner.

A third helicopter, an Mi-8 transport aircraft, was also hit and a serviceman wounded, the Defense Ministry said. The SBU security service said this helicopter was carrying medics.

Ukrainian officials said their troops overran rebel checkpoints and Slaviansk was now "tightly encircled".

Putin's spokesman heaped blame on the Ukrainian government, which took power two months ago after pro-Western protests forced president Viktor Yanukovich to flee to Russia.

Saying that Putin had warned before that any "punitive operation" would be a "criminal act", Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that this had now happened in Slaviansk.

"While Russia is making efforts to de-escalate and settle the conflict, the Kiev regime has turned to firing on civilian towns with military aircraft and has begun a punitive operation, effectively destroying the last hope of survival for the Geneva accord," he said, referring to a deal on April 17 signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

Under that agreement, separatists were supposed to lay down their arms and vacate the public buildings they have seized in about a dozen towns they have seized across the Russian-speaking east. Since then, however, they have tightened their grip.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry said it persuaded separatists to leave two buildings in the city of Luhansk on Friday.

The SBU said the deadly use by the separatists of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles was evidence that "trained, highly qualified foreign military specialists" were operating in the area "and not local civilians, as the Russian government says, armed only with guns taken from hunting stores".

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Elizabeth Piper in Kiev and Matt Robinson in Donetsk; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Peter Graff, Giles Elgood and Lisa Shumaker)

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