In Eastern Ukraine, at least 13 troops dead in rebel attack

Pro-Russian rebels attacked a military checkpoint in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing 13 Ukrainian soldiers, in one of the most violent incidents of the past few weeks as the country heads toward presidential elections this weekend.

The rebels fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the checkpoint, hitting an ammunition stash in one of the vehicles, which exploded, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, reported the Associated Press. The incident took place outside the town of Volnovakha near the restive eastern city of Donetsk.

Approximately 30 other Ukrainian soldiers were injured in the attack. According to residents, the rebels were riding in an armored bank truck, which the Ukrainian soldiers waived through the checkpoint, putting them in pointblank range.

A rebel group, which claimed responsibility for the raid, said one of its own was killed.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said another soldier was killed and two injured in a separate attack in the Luhansk region, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he’s pulling out Russian troops that were conducting military exercises near the Ukrainian border, back to their permanent bases.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a statement on Thursday, saying in part, “Late yesterday, we have seen limited Russian troop activity in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine that may suggest that some of these forces are preparing to withdraw. It is too early to say what this means, but I hope this is the start of a full and genuine withdrawal.”