At least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed and about 30 others injured when pro-Russian insurgents attacked a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Witnesses at the scene reported seeing 11 bodies around the checkpoint on the edge of the village of Blahodatne, near Volnovakha in the Donetsk region.
They said more than 30 Ukrainian troops were wounded in the attack, and some are in a critical condition.
Three charred Ukrainian armoured infantry vehicles, their turrets blown away by powerful explosions, and several burned trucks stood at the site of the combat area.
The attack cast a shadow over Ukraine’s presidential vote on Sunday, which insurgents in the east have pledged to derail.
The authorities in Kiev see the vote as a chance to defuse tensions and stabilise the country.
, although they admitted it will be impossible to stage the vote in some areas in the east, where election officials and voters have faced intimidation and threats from the rebels.
While fighting raged in Ukraine, Russia’s Defence Ministry said that its forces are leaving the regions near Ukraine as part of a massive military pull-out ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
It said that four train loads of weapons and 15 Il-76 heavy-lift transport planes left the Belgorod, Bryansk and Rostov regions yesterday. The troops are to reach their permanent bases before June 1, the ministry added.
Nato, which estimates that Russia has 40,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, repeated on Tuesday that it had not yet seen any signs of a Russian withdrawal.
Mr Putin scoffed at Nato’s scepticism, saying yesterday that the pull-out involving large numbers of troops would take time and “those who aren’t seeing it should look better”. He said the pull-out will be clearly visible in satellite images.
The announcement went further than an earlier step by the Russian leader two weeks ago, when he said the troops retreated from the border to shooting ranges.