Pro-Russia rebels operating in eastern Ukraine downed another two Su-25 jets on Wednesday afternoon near the village of Dmytrivk, just 25 miles from the crash site of the MH17 passenger jet, the country’s Defense Minister said.
A video posted to the Twitter account of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic shows heavily-armed men clad in helmets and military fatigues picking their way through burning debris at the alleged crash site as a series of explosions emanate from the wreckage. The footage has not been verified.
Ukraine’s national security spokesperson Andriy Lysenko told reporters that the jets were returning from an airstrike mission on rebel positions when they were targeted by surface-to-air missiles.
Earlier in the day a VICE News reporter heard several loud explosions in the area followed by the Su-25s roaring overhead as plumes of black smoke rose on the horizon.
According to Lysenko, “preliminary investigations” have shown that the “missile launch was carried out from the territory of the Russian Federation” because the height at which the planes were flying —17,000 feet — could not be hit by the MANPAD anti-aircraft weaponry possessed by the rebels.
For the last month Ukraine has claimed its border posts have been regularly shelled from positions inside Russia.
The rebels have downed at least five other Ukrainian aircrafts since the conflict begun. The last one, also an Su-25, was hit just 11 days ago.
Airstrikes by Ukrainian forces in the area to the east of the city Snizhne, just 12 miles from Russia, have become a regular occurrence in the area over the last month as they battle for control of the country’s porous eastern border — a key supply route of men and weapons for the rebels.
Earlier this month six bombs were dropped on the center of Snizhne —- a city of nearly 50,000 people — in a seeming incident of misfire. At least 11 civilians were killed and eight seriously wounded in the strike that included a direct hit on an apartment block.
Today's aircraft downings will raise yet further speculation about the rebels’ involvement in the crash of the MH17 flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which was struck by a missile while travelling over the war zone in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.
All 298 passengers on board the flight died in the crash which Ukraine and its Western allies have blamed on the rebels.
Washington has said that the pro-Russia fighters operating in the region likely hit the charter plane "by mistake" after confusing it with a military aircraft.
The leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have repeatedly denied that their forces were behind the attack and say that they do not have the BUK anti-aircraft missiles needed to strike a plane flying at that altitude.
But despite the fierce denials there is mounting evidence that the rebels are, or at least were, in possession of the BUK weapon with multiple eyewitnesses telling journalists that they have seen the anti-aircraft missile in the vicinity of the small town of Torez, where it is alleged to have been fired from.
Expert analysis of photographs of shrapnel damage evident on the plane wreckage has also been said to match the SA-11 missile that the US accuse the rebels of firing at the aircraft.
The rebels claim the civilian flight was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.
Neither side has given definitive proof. But in further development on Wednesday evening Alexander Khodakovsky, the leader of the Vostok Battalion, a rogue rebel force that is believed to have defected from the authorities in Donetsk, made a shock confession to Reuters that the pro-Russia fighters did possess such a weapon and that it may have been provided by Russia.
However, Khodakovsky, a former Alpha officer later spoke to pro-Kremlin channel Life News and denied having ever said such a thing.
Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem