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Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout in east

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Masked pro-Russia insurgents show a detained man, who reportedly is a member of the Right Sector, a nationalist Ukrainian group, when people gathered at barricades in front of a regional administration building that was seized by pro-Russian activists earlier in Donetsk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 20, 2014. The Ukrainian and Russian governments are reporting a shootout at a checkpoint set up by pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine that has left one person dead and others hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Pro-Russian activists brought to the stage a man who was accused of being a member of the radical organization Right sector. They also spoke about what he had found weapons and ammunition.(AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

Masked pro-Russia insurgents show a detained man, who reportedly is a member of the Right Sector, a nationalist Ukrainian group, when people gathered at barricades in front of a regional administration building that was seized by pro-Russian activists earlier in Donetsk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 20, 2014. The Ukrainian and Russian governments are reporting a shootout at a checkpoint set up by pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine that has left one person dead and others hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Pro-Russian activists brought to the stage a man who was accused of being a member of the radical organization Right sector. They also spoke about what he had found weapons and ammunition.(AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

Local residents inspect burnt out cars after a night fight at the check point which was under the control of pro-Russian activists in the village of Bulbasika near Slovyansk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 20, 2014. At least one person was killed in the clash. Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

An airborne tank of pro-Russian insurgents take position in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 20, 2014. Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

A man holds a Russian national flag as he and the others listen to a pro-Russian activist at barricades in front of a regional administration building that was seized by pro-Russian activists earlier in Donetsk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 20, 2014. The Ukrainian and Russian governments are reporting a shootout at a checkpoint set up by pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine that has left one person dead and others hospitalized with gunshot wounds. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A gunman guards during a press conference of Vacheslav Ponomarev, leader of the pro-Russian gunmen, in city hall, Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 20, 2014. Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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BYLBASIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

The Ukrainian Security Service, however, said the attack was staged by provocateurs from outside the country. And the presented evidence — particularly a pristine business card said to have been left behind by the attackers — was met with widespread ridicule in Ukraine, where it soon had its own Twitter hashtag.

The armed clash early Sunday near the city of Slovyansk appeared to be the first since an international agreement was reached last week in Geneva to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia activists have seized government buildings in at least 10 cities.

Ukraine’s new leaders and many in the West fear that such clashes could provide a pretext for Russia to seize more Ukrainian territory.

Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula last month, has tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, originally said the troops were there for military exercises, but Putin’s spokesman on Saturday acknowledged that some were there because of instability in eastern Ukraine.

The self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk appealed to Putin on Sunday to send in peacekeeping troops to protect Russian speakers from Ukrainian nationalists.

“They want to make us slaves. They don’t talk to us, but simply kill us,” Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said during a news conference in Slovyansk shown on Rossiya state television.

Yuri Zhadobin, who coordinates the pro-Russia unit manning the checkpoint in the village of Bylbasivka, told The Associated Press he was with about 20 men celebrating Easter when unknown men drove up in four vehicles and opened fire about 3 a.m.

“We began to shoot back from behind the barricades and we threw Molotov cocktails at them,” Zhadobin said. Two of the vehicles caught fire and the attackers fled in the other two, he said.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s office in the eastern Donetsk region said three people died in the attack and three others were wounded. The statement said some of the attackers were also killed or wounded, but the number wasn’t known. Russian state television reported that two of the attackers were killed.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry quickly blamed the clash on the Right Sector, a nationalist Ukrainian group that has supported the pro-Western interim government in Kiev, the capital.

But a spokesman for Right Sector, Artyom Skoropatskiy, denied any involvement in Sunday’s shootout, which he called a provocation staged by Russian special services.

Ukraine’s Security Service also called the attack a “cynical provocation” staged from “the outside.”

Russian state and other Kremlin-friendly television channels showed pictures of items said to have been seized from the attackers and the two captured vehicles, which were pockmarked by bullets and gutted by fire. The items included weapons,

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