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The deadliest military clash to date in the Ukraine crisis has left at least 16 Ukraine soldiers dead, with more than 30 wounded in what can only be described as an ambush. The attack comes ahead of Sunday’s presidential election which will replace the interim US-backed government in Kiev.

USA Today
As Ukraine prepares for a crucial presidential election, 16 soldiers and a pro-Russian rebel were killed Thursday in the deadliest attack on the military since unrest began in the east of the country in April.

The Ukrainian soldiers were killed at a checkpoint in the village of Blahodatne, 20 miles from Donetsk, after dawn clashes with pro-Russian separatists. One of the rebels was killed in the raid, and more than 30 soldiers were injured, the Associated Press reported.

The fog of war in Ukraine has made it difficult to know who was responsible, but it is clear the conflict escalated into what Russian President Putin called a “full scale civil war” at an international business summit boycotted by many large US corporations.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an army major who spoke to the survivors of the attack told our correspondent he was sure that the attackers were not Donetsk separatists but “mercenaries”.

Sophisticated ambush

The well planned attack used a fair amount of deception and required significant planning. The attack seems to be the work of mercenaries or well trained soldiers as the anonymous Ukraine officer said his men were gunned down in about 15 minutes.

Residents told AP the attackers had used an armoured bank lorry which the unsuspecting Ukrainian soldiers had waved through the checkpoint. The attackers then reportedly shot down the soldiers at point-blank range.

BBC journalists who reached the scene were not allowed to film by Ukrainian soldiers. The BBC’s Olga Ivshina found 27 wounded survivors at the central hospital in Volnovakha.

Local people said fighting had erupted at 05:00 local time (02:00 GMT). They said they had heard explosions and gunfire, and some spoke of seeing many wounded later.

Details of the attack point to larger scale coordination as some witnesses reported aerial support, which is corroborated by multiple videos.

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.

The massive explosion can be seen from two angles in these videos.

Raw video footage from up close.

Separate Rebel leaders claim and deny attacks

There are conflicting stories coming from rebel leaders, one publicly on Facebook claiming that rebels were not responsible. Another masked man claiming to be a rebel leader admitted the attacks as he showed off what he said were seized weapons.

Associated Press
A leading rebel commander claimed responsibility for the raid. In the courtyard of the occupied police headquarters of the town of Horlivka, he displayed seized Ukrainian weapons and the passports of what he said were two of the dead soldiers. He also provided coordinates about the location of the attack shortly after it had occurred. There was no way to confirm his claim independently.

“We destroyed a checkpoint of the fascist Ukrainian army deployed on the land of the Donetsk Republic,” said the commander, who wore a balaclava and insisted he be identified by his nom de guerre, “Bes” — Russian for “demon.” He said one of his men also was killed.

Pavel Gubarev, a representative of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, denied its men had carried out the attack, however. Gubarev, who does not appear to have much influence with the separatist group, appeared on Russian TV and accused Ukrainian nationalists from the group Right Sector of firing on Ukrainian soldiers because they had refused to attack civilians.

Civilians caught in the crossfire

As the conflict drags on, east Ukraine residents have become more frustrated with the crossfire endangering their homes, which is being blamed on both sides. The AP report notes many are tired of the separatists because of their poorly controlled impacts.

Associated Press
But many in the rebellious regions also have grown increasingly exasperated with the insurgents, whom they blame for putting civilians in the crossfire.

In the village of Semenovka on the outskirts of Slovyansk, shelling badly damaged several houses. Zinaida Patskan had her roof torn away by an explosion that also shattered a wall. She said she hid under a kitchen table with her cat, Timofey, in the shelling.

“Why they are hitting us?” the 80-year-old said, bursting into tears. “We are peaceful people!”

As the BBC report found, both sides are seen to be responsible.

In another development, residents of a village near Sloviansk, a town in Donetsk often seen as the separatists’ stronghold, complained of shelling that appeared to come from government positions.


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