Pro-Russian rebels have shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military operations said on Wednesday.
The spokesman said the two were downed near Savur Mogila in eastern Ukraine. No details were known about the pilots.
Rebels said they hit two Su-25s in Snezhnoe, which is near where they accidentally shot down Malaysia Flight MH17 on July 17, killing 298 people.
“We don’t think they have stopped,” one U.S. intelligence official told WSJ. “We think they continue to do it.”
Igor Strelkov, a suspected Russian intelligence officer who is now in charge of the rebel ranks in the eastern city of Donetsk, said the separatists had brought down one plane and that the pilot had ejected. He gave no further details.
Fierce fighting raged near the rebels’ two main centres in Donetsk and nearby Luhansk, where they have been pushed back by Ukrainian government forces, who have taken control of villages and suburbs around the cities.
Earlier on Tuesday, Kiev said the separatists were leaving their positions on the outskirts of Donetsk and retreating towards the city center.
Residents said the rebels, who rose up in April demanding independence from Kiev in the mainly Russian-speaking east, had dug trenches in downtown Donetsk outside the main university, where they have been living in student dormitories.
“In Donetsk, rebels abandoned their positions en masse and went towards the central part of the city,” the headquarters of what Kiev calls its “anti-terrorist operation” said in a statement.
“It cannot be ruled out that the appearance of such movements could suggest the spread of panic and attempts to leave the place of warfare.”
Residents said they had heard shelling during the night and a shell struck a chemical plant in the city, causing a fire.
Local health officials said 432 people had been killed and 1,015 wounded since hostilities started in the Donetskregion following the removal of a president in Kiev who was sympathetic to Moscow and after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region.
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