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22 May, 2014 17:03

16 Ukraine soldiers killed in Donetsk Region checkpoint attack

16 Ukraine soldiers killed in Donetsk Region checkpoint attack

16 Ukrainian troops were killed and over 30 injured in an attack on a military checkpoint in Donetsk Region. The deadliest assault on the army since Kiev launched its military operation in the south-east of the country comes a few days ahead of election.

The checkpoint on the edge of Blagodatnoe village, near the town of Volnovakha, was assaulted on Thursday night.

Eyewitnesses told Russian Chanel One that the attackers arrived in transit vans, with armored vehicles and combat helicopters providing cover for them.

The gunmen set fire to the military’s armored vehicles and began shooting at the rookie soldiers, who had their encampment near the checkpoint.

One of the shells hit an ammunition depot, which resulted in a massive explosion that saw dozens injured, Channel One reports.

The video, which allegedly captures the events in Blagodatnoe, emerged on the internet on Thursday.

Two combat helicopters heavily, shelling an area covered by trees, and a huge explosion are seen in the footage.

Another clip from the scene shows the aftermath of the battle, with two burning armored vehicles and dead bodies on the ground.

The Donetsk Regional Administration said that 16 soldiers died and 32 received injuries in the attack on the checkpoint.

The self-defense forces of the People Republic of Donetsk said that the attack on the army’s checkpoint was a reprisal raid by the radicals.

“The Blagodatnoe residents came out to defend their homes. The soldiers were ordered to crush the resistance. But they refused to shoot at people, and were, eventually, punished for that,” the source in the self-defense forces told LifeNews.

The witnesses told the channel that the transit vans, which the attackers used for transportation, belonged to the Privat-Bank, which is owned by oligarch Igor Kolomoisky.

Kolomoisky bankrolled the Ukrainian coup in February and largely contributed to the creation of the National Guard, which helped legitimize the far-right militants among the Maidan protestors.

The newly-appointed Dnepropetrovsk Region governor is also blamed for masterminding the Odessa tragedy on May 2 when 48 anti-Kiev protestors died after radicals set fire to the local Trade Unions House.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has confirmed that there was a battle at Blagodatnoe, but spoke only of eight casualties among its troops.

Ukrainian soldiers survey an area where Ukrainian servicemen were killed on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha, south of Donetsk May 22, 2014.(Reuters / Yannis Behrakis )

AP journalists, who visited the checkpoint, said they saw 11 bodies scattered around the site of the battle, with a witness speaking of around 30 injured, some of them in grave condition.

A surviving Ukrainian soldier told the agency that the attack was “horrible” and he has lost three of his friends in it.

“My daughter told me that war has begun there and I came to help,”
one of the locals told AP. “I was providing all possible assistance since 5am. I was transporting the injured. I did all I could.”

However, the agency reports that it was the self-defense forces of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, behind the assault.

The agency reports that a group of anti-Kiev rebels in the town of Gorlovka later claimed responsibility for the raid and displayed weapons, which were seized during the operation.

"We destroyed a checkpoint of the fascist Ukrainian army deployed on the land of the Donetsk Republic,''
the unit’s commander, who wore a balaclava, said.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian army major, who spoke to the survivors of the attack, told the BBC on condition of anonymity that he was sure that the attackers weren’t from the Donetsk self-defense forces, but were “mercenaries.”

Ukrainian soldiers block traffic near the site (seen in background) where Ukrainian servicemen were killed on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha, south of Donetsk May 22, 2014.(Reuters / Yannis Behrakis )

Also on Thursday night, Kiev forces continued shelling the outskirts of the besieged town of Slavyansk in the Donetsk region.

The artillery fire injured three people and destroyed several houses, the local self-defense forces said.

A bridge was blown up near the town of Lisichyansk in the neighboring Lugansk Region as the military engaged the anti-Kiev activists.

A soldier was killed and two others injured in the battle, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said, with the self-defense forces also speaking of several wounded on their side.

The Border Guard said that five of its troops were injured and one suffered a concussion in a gunfight at the service’s Stanchino-Luganskoe department, RIA Novosti reports.

Kiev is pulling in more troops on into south-east of the country in anticipation of the presidential election on Sunday.

“According to our data, there’s currently around 6,000 [Kiev troops in the Lugansk Region], and their number has increased in recent days,” Valery Bolotov, the head of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Lugansk, said.

Lugansk and Donetsk regions have refused to recognize Kiev’s coup-imposed authorities, and staged referendums on May 11, which garnered landslide support for independence from Kiev.