An Ukrainian soldier walks past charred APCs at a gunfight site near the village of Blahodatne, eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
KIEV, Ukraine — At least 13 are dead in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region after pro-Russian insurgents carried out a surprise assault on Ukrainian soldiers who were manning a checkpoint early Thursday. It was the deadliest single raid in a more than a month of violent episodes.
Citing Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported 13 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the shootout, and several more were wounded in bucolic Blahodatne, a typically quiet village about 18 miles south of the regional capital Donetsk.
Associated Press reporters who were on the ground at the time said they saw 11 bodies strewn around the scorched checkpoint. Eyewitnesses told the AP that more than 30 Ukrainian troops were wounded when the insurgents attacked the checkpoint, and some of them were in serious condition.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said "terrorists" used automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers against its forces during the attack. It first reported in a statement on its website that one soldier had been killed before retracting the statement when the number climbed.
It remains unclear whether any insurgents involved were killed or wounded.
The AP reported that a rebel commander from nearby Horlivka claimed responsibility for the attack. "We destroyed a checkpoint of the fascist Ukrainian army deployed on the land the Donetsk Republic," the news agency reported the commander as saying. He identified himself only by the pseudonym, "Bes," meaning "demon" in Russian.
Photos published to an anti-Kiev website show what appear to be the charred remains of military vehicles, as well as the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers scattered in a field and hunched over in a van.
A video published on YouTube purportedly filmed during the attack shows two Ukrainian military helicopters flying over the site. Several explosions can be seen, as well as plumes of smoke rising from the forested area. One of the military helicopters reportedly landed at the site, bringing officials who inspected the scene.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council after news that members of Ukraine's security forces were killed.
"We are addressing our partners at the UN Security Council to immediately convene a UN Security Council session. We will present evidence proving that attempts to escalate the conflict […] and disrupt the presidential elections have been made on the part of Russia," he told journalists in Kiev on Thursday, adding that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had forwarded a note to Moscow accusing it of fueling the conflict.
The violence came just three days before Ukraine’s presidential vote scheduled for Sunday. Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have pledged to block the voting.
The separatists have been fighting with Ukrainian security forces in the regions for more than a month, during which time they have carried out referendums on secession they say have granted them independence.
More than two dozen Ukrainian officers have been killed in that time. It’s not known how many insurgents have been killed, but their leaders have reported heavy casualties.