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Ukrainian Soldiers Die In Attack By Separatists

Pro-Russian separatists attacked a military checkpoint in eastern Ukraine Thursday, killing at least 11 soldiers and wounding about 30. The country is preparing to hold national elections on Sunday.

The attack was near the village of Blahodatne in Donetsk, one of two main areas in eastern Ukraine where separatists say they want to break away from the country and its interim government.

From Donetsk, NPR's Corey Flintoff reports:

"The Associated Press reported counting 11 bodies and seeing burnt-out military vehicles at the checkpoint in a small town about 20 miles from Donetsk."Witnesses said the insurgents staged an ambush, by hiding gunmen in an armored bank truck."A rebel commander claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the Ukrainian troops were deployed on the self-proclaimed territory of the Donetsk People's Republic.Ukrainian authorities are trying to provide security for polling places, but many have been blocked by separatists. Russia's foreign ministry charged today that the Ukrainian government is stepping up its military operation in eastern Ukraine."

An AP reporter visited the scene of the attack; the agency says a rebel commander showed off trophies from the operation: weapons seized from the checkpoint:

" '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.' "

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