Ukraine rebels withdraw from Donetsk outskirts

Ukraine rebels withdraw from Donetsk outskirts

Pro-Russian separatists Wednesday exited three towns on the outskirts of the eastern city of Donetsk and areas surrounding the airport, rebel militia chief Igor Strelkov said even as the rebels shot down two Ukrainian military aircraft.

The separatists left Karlovka, Netailovo and Pervomayskoye to avoid being encircled and annihilated by government forces, which have broken the siege around Donetsk airport and reached the northwestern part of the city, Efe news agency quoted Strelkov as telling a Russian agency.

Strelkov said he did not expect an invasion by Ukrainian troops in Donetsk, which had one million inhabitants when the armed conflict between the two sides broke out last April.

Meanwhile, the government in Kiev said the separatist rebels Wednesday shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets near the spot where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was downed by a surface to air missile on July 17.

One of the pilots parachuted to safety and landed in rebel-held territory, while the other flew north, the Ukrainian military said.

"We have information about the downed fighter jets; now we are investigating the circumstances of the incident," Xinhua quoted Alexei Dmitrashkovsky, a spokesman of the Ukrainian defence ministry, as telling reporters.

The incident came less than a week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed near the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, killing all 298 people on board.

The pro-Russian militias claimed they had also hit two other fighter jets in the neighbouring region of Luhansk, but the report was not confirmed by the government, the Efe report said.

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