Ukraine Conflict Claims Lives at 30,000 Feet

PHOTO: Malaysian Airlines Crash

AP/Dmitry Lovetsky

The downing of a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine today threatens to further destabilize an already violent conflict zone near the Russian border.

Ukrainian officials were quick to blame the deaths of all 295 people aboard on pro-Russian militant separatists who control the Donbass region, a depressed industrial zone lined with coal mines and chemical plants.

“We are not calling it an accident or a disaster, but an act of terrorism,” said Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.

Ukrainian military analysts claim the plane was downed by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, according to ABC News. Ukrainian authorities released several recordings of allegedly intercepted conversations between separatists. There, the rebels allegedly acknowledged that they shot down the plane, but sound surprised when they realize it was a passenger airliner.

“Why the f**k were they flying here? There’s a war,” one of the alleged terrorists says on the recording.

Pro-Russian separatists are trying to distance themselves from the incident, after initially appearing to claim responsibility for the act. In the moments following the plane crash, separatist leader Igor Strelkov bragged on social media that his group had shot down a Ukrainian transport plane. The comment, posted on Russian social network vk.com, was quickly removed after news came out that the plane was a passenger airliner. The pro-Russian separatists later published a statement insisting they aren’t responsible for the crash; the rebels said they don’t have the weaponry to down a jet airliner at that altitude.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has been accused of directly assisting the separatists with troops and tanks, blamed the crash on Ukraine. Putin did, however, call Malaysia’s prime minister to convey his sympathy and support to the victims’ families, according to ABC News.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was not the first plane shot down over Ukraine.

In 2001, Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 was downed over the Black Sea by an errant Ukrainian missile fired during routine military exercises. All 78 people onboard were killed.

Other planes were downed intentionally. Last month, a Ukrainian military plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists, killing 49 troops. And earlier this week, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry accused the Russians of shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet. The Russians deny the allegation.

Photo: Alex Furman

Since fighting broke out in the Donbass region in April, hundreds of people have been killed on both sides of the conflict.

Photo: Alex Furman

An additional 54,000 refugees have been displaced.

Photo: Alex Furman

Those who remain live in fear amid partially destroyed buildings.

Photo: Alex Furman

Photo: Alex Furman

Even before the war started, Donbass was a tough, economically depressed region. It was populated by miners and roughnecks, including former criminals who relocated to the zone during the days of the Soviet Union.

- - - - Photos by Kateryna Panova

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