The first group of Ukrainian troops has arrived home from Iraq as Ukraine started the phased pull-out of its soldiers from the country.

A Ukrainian Defense Ministry statement says the plane carrying 137 soldiers landed in Mykolaiv, south of Kiev, Tuesday.

The troops were part of a contingent of more than 1,600 Ukrainian soldiers that have been serving in Iraq.

The statement says 550 troops are to be withdrawn by May 15, and the remaining soldiers by the end of the year.

President Viktor Yushchenko had promised to have the pull-out complete by October, but officials said it may take longer.

Eighteen Ukrainian troops have been killed in Iraq during the deployment, which many Ukrainians have opposed.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.