From VOA Learning English, this is In The News.
Pro-Russian rebels shot down two Ukrainian helicopters in eastern Ukraine on Friday. Two airmen were killed. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a third helicopter was also hit.
In a statement, Ukraine’s government reported that missiles brought down the two helicopters. It said the firing of missiles was evidence that Russian forces were present in the city. Russia denies its troops are on Ukrainian soil.
News of the attacks came as Ukrainian government forces strengthened their positions around the rebel-held city of Slovyansk. Ukrainian military vehicles moved to neighborhoods just outside Slovyansk. But rebels still controlled most of the city of 130,000 people.
Reporters there heard shooting and saw one helicopter opening fire before sunrise. Twelve hours later, the city was largely quiet with armed separatists in control. About 100 people gathered outside government buildings. They appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to help them.
The Russian military has tens of thousands of troops across the border. Russia had earlier claimed the right to invade if needed to protect Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
On Friday, Russian officials accused the Ukrainian government of launching a “criminal” assault that wrecked hopes of peace. A spokesman for President Putin accused Ukrainian forces of firing on civilians from the air in what he called a “punitive operation.”
President Putin demanded on Thursday that Ukraine withdraw all military personnel from territory along the Russian border. He made the comment to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was on her way to Washington.
On Friday, the German leader met with President Barack Obama at the White House. The two leaders expressed hope for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. The president warned of expanding sanctions on Mr. Putin and others if Russia continued to fuel the unrest in Ukraine.
The European Union says it is watching events in eastern Ukraine with growing concern. But Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And Western leaders have made clear that they will not defend Ukraine.
Separatists and Russian intervention are not the only threats to Ukraine. Many Ukrainians think their country is in crisis. A new study found that nearly 80 percent of those questioned in eastern Ukraine think the government is unlawful. Rakesh Sharma was the director of the survey.
“In Kharkiv and Donetsk, in those focus group, what we heard were people saying primarily that this government does not represent us, we do not feel like our interests are being represented by this government, and that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and the way it was headed.”
A Washington-based pro-democracy group organized the survey. The group receives most of its money from the United Nations and the United States Agency for International Development.
Pro-Russian separatists are seeking a vote on May 11 on whether to break with Ukraine’s government. Local officials in Crimea held a similar vote earlier this year. Russia took control of the Crimean peninsula shortly after the vote.
And that’s In The News, from VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember.
*For the latest news about Ukraine, go to VOANews.com.