An airliner has crashed north of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, apparently brought down by military action.
Ukrainian authorities confirmed that they had lost contact with Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, in an international air corridor 10,000 meters above Ukrainian territory, at around 1620 local time. Interfax reported that all 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard had been killed.
Malaysian Airlines confirmed via its Twitter account that it had lost contact with the plane, and that its last known position was over Ukrainian airspace.
The incident appears to represent by far the most shocking in the four-month conflict that erupted after the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, and risks a further escalation of a conflict that is widely seen as the biggest threat to the European economy.
It would also be the second disaster to strike Malaysian Airlines in months, after the disappearance of flight MH-370 over the Indian Ocean in March.
Only a day before, the U.S. and E.U. had imposed fresh sanctions on Russia for its support of the separatists fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and against a background of increasingly intense military action.
The incident follows another one earlier in the day, in which Russian-backed separatists claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian military AN-26 transport plane, which had been flying at an altitude of 6,000m, and another one in which a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter-bomber was shot down.
“We do not rule out that this airplane too was shot down, and we stress that the armed forces of Ukraine didn’t carry out any kind of action against air targets,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement on his website.
In Russia, meanwhile, the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unnamed Russian military official as saying that no Russian airforce planes were flying near the Ukrainian border on Thursday, while the English-language Russia Today channel, likewise Kremlin-controlled, cited a representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as saying they didn’t have anti-aircraft equipment.
The Ukrainian and Russian governments have traded accusations of firing across the border this week, with Russia claiming one of its citizens was killed by Ukrainian artillery fire, while Kiev claimed that one of its planes had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire from Russian territory.