Three days before Ukraine holds a presidential vote, pro-Russia insurgents attacked a military checkpoint Thursday in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 11 troops and wounding at least 33 others in the deadliest raid yet in weeks of fighting in Blahodatne, Ukraine.
A rebel group who claimed responsibility for the attack said one of their own was also killed.
AP journalists saw 11 dead Ukrainian soldiers scattered around a checkpoint near the village of Blahodatne, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the major city of Donetsk. Witnesses including a medical worker said 33 Ukrainian troops were wounded in the attack and that some of them were in grave condition. All the wounded were being treated at nearby medical facilities.
The Ukrainian Defence Ministry confirmed the attack but wouldn't comment on casualties.
Ukraine's acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in televised comments blamed Russia for backing the rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have declared independence from the government in Kyiv.
Thursday's carnage cast a shadow over Ukraine's upcoming presidential vote on Sunday, which separatists in the east have pledged to derail. Authorities in Kyiv see the vote as a chance to defuse tensions and stabilize 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.
Three charred Ukrainian armoured infantry vehicles, their turrets blown away, and several burned trucks were seen at the site in the Donetsk region. A military helicopter landed, carrying officials who inspected the area.
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 masked 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. He said one of his men also was killed.
"The weapons you see here have been taken from the dead, they are trophies," the rebel commander said, showing automatic and sniper rifles, rocket grenade launchers and bulletproof vests in the courtyard of the occupied Horlivka 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," he added.