Friday marked one of the worst days yet for the situation in Ukraine, as dozens were killed because of violence sparked by a crackdown on Russian separatists by the Ukrainian government. Early Friday, separatists shot down two Ukrainian helicopters, killing the crew members on board. The Ukrainian government is attempting to restore authority to regions of the country that have been taken over by the Russian separatists. Some fear that the violence is escalating to a point where civil war is unavoidable. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that he will get involved if need be. He has said that he believes Ukraine’s actions are opposite of peaceful. This is the third crackdown since Crimea fell to Russian hands last month.
Pro-Russian separatists downed two helicopters in eastern Ukraine while clashes in the southern port city of Odessa sparked a fire that killed 31 people as fighting spread in the nation.
The escalating violence Friday raised the question of whether the country can stave off a possible civil war.
The violence pit pro-Russian separatists against Ukrainian forces and those who support the government in Kiev. It prompted an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, with Russia demanding an end to what it called Ukrainian aggression and Western powers accusing Moscow of funding the violence.
In eastern Ukraine, the crisis hit a boiling point with news Friday that security forces launched their most intensive effort yet to try to dislodge pro-Russian separatists who have reportedly seized government buildings in nearly a dozen cities and towns.
Thirty-one people died in a fire started at a trade union building amid clashes in the largely Russian-speaking Odessa, police said. Authorities initially reported 38 people had died, but they later revised it.
Video posted on YouTube appeared to show supporters of Kiev throwing Molotov cocktails at the building where pro-Russian separatists had reportedly taken up positions. The footage, which CNN could not independently confirm, showed people sitting on ledges trying to escape the fire and thick smoke.
CNN cannot independently confirm the casualty counts.
Two Ukrainian government helicopters were shot down in the flashpoint city of Slavyansk. The helicopters were brought down by fire from pro-Russian separatists, the Ukraine Ministry of Defense said.
Five pro-Russian separatists and two civilians were killed in Slavyansk in a Ukrainian military operation, the city’s self-declared mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov.
Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed during an attack in the village of Andriyivka, near Slavyansk, defense ministry said. The gunmen also blocked a bridge in the area, using local residents, including women, as shields, according to the ministry.
In the eastern town of Kramatorsk, security forces foiled a move to seize a television station tower, Ukraine’s interior ministry said. Officials said the move to secure towns held by pro-Russian separatists will resume Saturday.
Hundreds of miles away, in the Black Sea city of Odessa, at least four people were killed and 40 were wounded in fighting, according to the regional police administration.
The violence came the same day that U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to seek harsher sanctions against Russia if Ukraine doesn’t stabilize in time for elections this month.
But the threat seemed to do little to waive off Russia, with its Foreign Ministry saying Ukraine’s use of its military in Slavyansk is criminal.
Russia and the West squared off diplomatically over the fate of Ukraine after Moscow annexed Crimea in March following the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. He was pushed from office after months of protests by people upset that he had turned away from Europe in favor of Russia.