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    Armed pro-Russia rebels inspect a vehicle at a checkpoint near an airbase in Kramatorsk Women's Giorgio Tavecchio Jersey , eastern Ukraine, yesterday. Pro-Russia rebels earlier in the day shot down two Ukrainian helicopters, killing two crew members, as troops tightened their siege of the separatist-held Slaviansk in what Moscow called a “criminal” assault by Kiev that had wrecked hopes of peace. — Reuters PRO-RUSSIA troops yesterday shot down two Ukrainian helicopters, killing two crew, as forces tightened their siege of separatist-held Slaviansk Women's Connor Cook Jersey , and Moscow accused Kiev of launching a “criminal” assault that had wrecked hopes of peace.

    Though Ukrainian forces appeared to be carrying out one of their most concerted military operations yet, their advance on the ground was limited. Nevertheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman accused Kiev of firing on civilians from the air in a “punitive operation” that destroyed an international peace plan.

    Russia was “extremely worried” about the fate of Russians in the city, including an envoy sent to help free German and other foreign hostages, the Kremlin spokesman said.

    The dramatic language seems to raise the stakes, as Moscow has tens of thousands of troops massed on the border and claims the right to invade if needed to protect Russian speakers.

    In Slaviansk Women's Shilique Calhoun Jersey , the most heavily fortified bastion of pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine, shooting broke out and a helicopter opened fire before dawn. Ten hours later, the city was largely quiet, with shops shut and armed separatists in control of the streets.

    Advancing Ukrainian forces in armored vehicles took up positions closer in to the suburbs, but rebels still controlled most of the city of 130,000.

    The pro-Russia militants also made more moves on Thursday Women's Johnny Townsend Jersey , seizing a rail control center for the Donetsk region, a railway official said.

    By cutting off power, they had all but paralyzed train traffic.

    Kiev said the firing of missiles that brought down its helicopters was evidence that Russian forces were present in the town. Moscow denies that its troops are on the ground.

    Nonetheless, Kremlin accounts of threats to civilians highlight the risk of a Russian move to seize territory ahead of a vote the pro-Russians aim to hold on May 11 seeking a mandate to break with Kiev, like that held in the Crimea region before Moscow annexed it in March.

    About 100 people gathered in the square outside city hall in Slaviansk yesterday and said they were appealing to Putin to send troops to help them.

    Businesswoman Tamara Voshchanaya said: “What can you think when the sound of cannon makes you jump out of bed, when helicopters are flying over and shooting at our guys?

    “We are ready to stand firm. Give us weapons Women's Nick Nelson Jersey , and we too will go against the Right Sector,” she said, referring to a Ukrainian nationalist group, which Moscow said is menacing Russian speakers across Ukraine.

    On the town’s southern outskirts, eight Ukrainian armored personnel carriers cut off the road but faced a cordon two deep of local residents shouting at them to go home.

    The European Union said it was watching events in Ukraine with growing concern. But Kiev is not a member of NATO and Western leaders have said they will not fight to defend it.

    The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement that two Mi-24 attack helicopters were shot down by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles while on patrol overnight around Slaviansk. Two airmen were killed and others were wounded.

    A third helicopter, an Mi-8 transport aircraft Women's Arden Key Jersey , was also hit injuring a serviceman, the ministry said.

    The SBU security service said it was carrying medics.

    Ukrainian officials said their troops overran rebel checkpoints and Slaviansk was now “tightly encircled.”

    Putin’s spokesman heaped blame on the Ukrainian government, which took power two months ago after pro-Western protests forced the Kremlin-backed elected president to flee to Russia.

    Noting that Putin had warned before that any “punitive operation” would be a “criminal act,” Dmitry Peskov said that this was what had now happened at Slaviansk.

    Peskov said Putin had sent an envoy, Vladimir Lukin, to southeast Ukraine to negotiate the release of European military observers held by the rebels Women's Brandon Parker Jersey , and that Lukin had not been heard from since the Ukrainian operation began.

    “While Russia is making efforts to settle the conflict, the Kiev regime has turned to firing on civilian towns with military aircraft ... effectively destroying the last hope of survival for the Geneva accord,” he said, referring to a deal on April 17 signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU.

    Under the agreement Women's Mario Edwards Jr Jersey , separatists were supposed to lay down their arms and vacate public buildings they have seized in towns across the Russian-speaking east. But since then they have tightened their grip.

    Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said it persuaded separatists to leave two buildings in the city of Luhansk yesterday.

    The SBU said the deadly use by the separatists of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles was evidence that “trained, qualified foreign military specialists” were operating in the area “and not local civilians, as the Russian government says.”

    On his Facebook page, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said: “The goal of our anti-terrorist operation and, at the same time, our demands to the terrorists are simple: Free the hostages Women's Karl Joseph Jersey , lay down weapons, vacate buildings and get municipal infrastructure back to normal.”

    He urged people to stay inside and said Ukrainian forces had orders not to fire on residential buildings.

    The rebels said they had the upper hand.

    “They wanted to carry out small-scale operations to scare the people,” a militant said.

    “But things have not worked out the way they wanted.”
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