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Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

  • Gabe Joselow

Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had captured a group of Russian paratroopers who had crossed into Ukrainian territory on a “special mission” - but Moscow said they had ended up there by mistake.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military said it had captured a group of Russian paratroopers who had crossed the border.

On Tuesday, Ukraine security services released video footage purporting to show testimonies from Russian paratroopers detained by Ukrainian government forces while fighting alongside pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine.

Video posted on Kyiv's Anti-Terrorist Operation Facebook page shows one of the detained soldiers, who identified himself as Corporal Ivan Milchakov, listing his personal details, including the name of the paratroop regiment he belongs to which he said is based in the Russian town of Kostroma.

“I did not see where we crossed the border. They just told us we were going on a 70-kilometer (45 mile) march over three days,” Milchakov said.

“Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We've come as cannon fodder,” he said in the video.

Called a mistake

However, Russian officials said the soldiers were lost and crossed over the Ukraine border by mistake.

The claim was disputed by Ukrainian military spokesman Olekseyi Dmitrachkovskiy.

“Yesterday, these people were questioned and they gave testimony that most of them knew they were going to Ukraine," he said.

At a frontline Ukrainian military position, soldiers battle daily with pro-Russian separatists located about 10 kilometers away.

A Ukraine rocket-launcher site was destroyed in one of the frequent barrages of rebel fire that come every day, according to a young soldier, Oleg.

“You can't tell, it can be in 10 minutes, in 2 minutes or in 24 hours, or shelling all the time from artillery mortars or grad rockets," Oleg said.

The Ukraine military controls a narrow strip of land between Donetsk and Luhansk province.

While the Ukrainians said they have rebel positions surrounded, concerns that Moscow is still funding and supplying the rebels means this fight could last for a while.

As the death toll mounts from the monthslong fight, officials in Ukraine hope a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin will calm tensions.

“Concerning escalation, we will wait for the results of the negotiations taking place today in Belarus. I think probably common sense will prevail and they will agree and meet in the middle,” Dmitrachkovskiy said.

Russia continues to deny it is backing the rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine, but forces in eastern Ukraine said the evidence suggests otherwise.

Russian influences

Near the town of Debaltseve, Ukrainian national guards stopped a car when it tried to avoid a checkpoint. Inside, the troops said they found what they said was a drunk driver, machine guns and Russian passports.

Three accused separatists pulled from the vehicle are being investigated.

One of the soldiers in Debaltseve, Victor, is convinced of Moscow's involvement in the conflict.

“If Russia wouldn't support terrorists, this conflict I think would have been over a long time ago," Victor said.

Separatists are showing no sign of letting up in their long battle to control eastern Ukraine, as the military digs in for a long fight as well.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.

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