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Ukrainian Soldiers Killed In Attack By Separatists

Pro-Russian separatists attacked a military checkpoint in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing at least 13 soldiers and wounding about 30, according to Ukraine's acting prime minister. The country is preparing to hold national elections on Sunday.

A separatist commander told The Associated Press that one of his men also died.

The attack took place 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 ... 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."

The AP reports that a rebel commander in Horlivka showed off trophies in the form of weapons seized from the checkpoint.

" 'We destroyed a checkpoint of the fascist Ukrainian army deployed on the land the Donetsk Republic,' the commander said, according to the AP. It adds that he "wore a balaclava and identified himself by his nom de guerre, 'Bes,' Russian for 'demon.' "

The AP says the acting Prime Minister Aseniy Yatsenyuk, in a Facebook posting, called for an urgent session of the U.N. Security Council so that evidence of Moscow's involvement in the latest killings could be presented.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.