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Pro-Russia fighters stage predawn assault on Ukrainian border post

Ukraine's new president-elect Petro Poroshenko faces a stiff challenge in prosecuting an "anti-terrorist" operation in eastern Ukraine, where a border patrol camp has come under heavy fire. 

Efrem Lukatsky/AP
Ukrainian army paratroopers move to a position in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Monday, June 2, 2014. Hundreds of armed insurgents attacked a border guards’ camp in eastern Ukraine Monday, as rebels nearby promised safety for the officers if they surrendered the base and lay down their arms.

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Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia separatists fought a major battle Monday at a border patrol camp near the eastern city of Lugansk.

According to a statement from the Ukrainian border service, some 100 militants attacked the border guard headquarters in Mirny, a Lugansk suburb, using grenade launchers, mortars, and sniper fire in the early morning. By 7 a.m. local time, their numbers had swelled to 400, reports the Daily Telegraph. Both sides have suffered fatalities from the fighting. 

Reuters adds that according to the Ukrainian government, insurgent snipers fired on government troops from inside a residential apartment building, and had not allowed residents to leave.

The fighting comes just a week after the election of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who promised to step up the "anti-terrorism" operation against pro-Russia militants. Mr. Poroshenko has said that he is willing to sit down with disgruntled eastern Ukrainians to discuss their concerns, but has also said that he would not talk to armed "terrorists."

Ukraine's Russian-speaking east views the Kiev government as illegitimate, and members of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk declared "independence" from Kiev in referendums earlier last month. The referendums' results were in turn seen as illegitimate by Kiev. The rebels in the east prevented most of their regions from voting in last week's presidential elections.

Oleg Slobodyan, a Ukrainian border service spokesman, told The New York Times that the border guard was holding its own, but that it had yet to receive help it has requested from the government.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Mr. Slobodyan told the Times, “but our mission was never intended to be one that repelled large armed attacks.”

Interfax says that the fighting is still going on, having continued for over eight hours. Interfax reports seven Ukrainian soldiers wounded and five separatists killed, eight injured.

Both US and Russian officials expressed concern about the battle, reports The Washington Post.

Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, who is in Kiev meeting with senior Ukrainian officials, told the Post that the fighting was an indication of interference in Ukraine by Russia, which the US, EU, and Kiev have blamed for stirring chaos in the east. "It’s a further example of the destabilizing activities supported by Russia in the east, and it’s something we strongly condemn," he said.

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov maintained that Kiev was exacerbating the conflict through its use of military force in the east. “We are very concerned about what is going on,” he said. “People die every day and civilians suffer increasingly. The army, combat aviation, and heavy weapons continue to be used against them.”

Mr. Lavrov is expected to submit a resolution to the UN Security Council on Monday that will address the conflict in Ukraine.

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