Blahodatne (Ukraine): Three days before Ukraine holds a presidential vote, pro-Russia insurgents attacked a military checkpoint today in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 30 others in the deadliest raid yet in weeks of fighting.
AP journalists saw 11 bodies scattered around a checkpoint near the village of Blahodatne, 30 kilometres south of the major city of Donetsk. Witnesses said more than 30 Ukrainian troops were wounded when the insurgents attacked and that some of them were in grave condition.
Three charred Ukrainian armoured infantry vehicles, their turrets blown away, and several burned trucks were seen at the site, which is in the Donetsk region, one of two in eastern Ukraine that have declared independence from the interim government in Kiev. A military helicopter landed, carrying officials who inspected the area.
The Ukrainian Defence Ministry confirmed the attack but wouldn`t comment on casualties. There was no report of casualties on the insurgent side.
Residents said attackers used an armoured bank truck, which the unsuspecting Ukrainian soldiers waved through, and then mowed them down at point-blank range. Their account couldn`t be independently confirmed.
In the town of Horlivka, a rebel commander claimed responsibility for the raid and showed an array of seized Ukrainian weapons.
"We destroyed a checkpoint of the fascist Ukrainian army deployed on the land the Donetsk Republic," said the commander, who wore a balaclava and identified himself by his nom de guerre, "Bes," Russian for "demon."
"The weapons you see here have been taken from the dead, they are trophies," he said, showing automatic and sniper rifles, rocket grenade launchers and bulletproof vests in the courtyard of the occupied Horlivka city police headquarters.
"People living in western Ukraine: Think about where you are sending your brothers, fathers and sons, and why you need any of this," the commander said.
Today`s carnage cast a shadow over Ukraine`s presidential vote on Sunday, which separatists in the east have pledged to derail. The authorities in Kiev see the vote as a chance to defuse tensions and stabilise the country. Even so, they have admitted it will be impossible to stage the vote in some eastern areas where election officials and voters have faced intimidation and sometimes death threats from the rebels.