KIEV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian military transport plane was shot down Monday along the country's eastern border with Russia, but all eight people aboard managed to bail out safely, the defense ministry said.
Separatist rebels in conflict-wracked eastern Ukraine claimed responsibility for downing the Antonov-26, but Ukrainian officials swiftly ruled that out and blamed Russia instead.
There was no immediate comment from Russia.
In the past two weeks, the government has halved the territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists, who have been forced back to Luhansk and Donetsk. Many in the armed insurgency are known to be Russian nationals, but Moscow says they are simply citizens who went to fight in Ukraine on their own.
Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said the plane was flying at an altitude of about 21,300 feet, which he said was too high to be reached by the weapons used by the separatists. Rebels are known to have Igla portable surface-to-air missiles, which work up to about 11,400 feet.
Ukraine Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said data from the plane's surviving crew suggested the rocket was either a surface-to-air Pantsir missile or a missile from a plane from Russia's Millerovo Air Force base.
Charles Heyman, a defense analyst who edits the book Armed Forces of the European Union, said the missile was more likely fired by the Ukrainian rebels.
"I doubt the transport plane was flying at 6,500 meters. . . . The higher you fly, the more it costs, and the plane would have had to be pressurized," Heyman said.