Ukraine crisis: Kiev prisoners 'admit to being in Russian army'

Pro-Russian rebels drive on an armoured military vehicle near city of Donetsk, Ukraine Image copyright EPA
Image caption Russia has repeatedly rejected allegations that it is helping rebel forces (pictured)

Two men captured by Ukrainian troops on Saturday have confessed to being members of the Russian armed forces, a report by European mediators says.

The pair were interviewed at a military hospital in Kiev by members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

"They were armed but had no orders to attack," the security body said.

Russia has not responded to the latest claims, but has previously said the two men were no longer serving soldiers.

The men had travelled to Ukraine on a "reconnaissance mission", according to the OSCE.

"One of them said he had received orders from his military unit to go to Ukraine. He was to 'rotate' after three months. Both of them said they had been to Ukraine 'on missions' before," it added.

"One of them stressed repeatedly that there were no Russian troops involved in fighting in Ukraine."

The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia is helping the rebels with heavy weapons and soldiers. Independent experts echo that accusation.

Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are "volunteers".

'Convenient testimony'

The men were wounded and captured by Ukrainian troops in the town of Shchastya, almost 30km (19 miles) from the Russian border on Saturday. They have been charged with involvement in "terrorist activity" .

Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia's ministry of defence, said on Monday that the two detainees were not serving soldiers, but former ones.

He claimed they had been mistreated by Ukrainian special forces who had "beat convenient testimony out of them".

Rebels in eastern Ukraine said the men were policemen from Ukraine's Luhansk region.

The lull in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since February's ceasefire has been punctuated by frequent violations.

On Thursday the military in Kiev said one Ukrainian serviceman had been killed and eight others wounded in fresh attacks by separatists.

The OSCE's deputy chief in Ukraine, Alexander Hug, warned that "the geographical scope of the conflict seems to be spreading".

"The mission also observed movement or presence of weapons on both sides of the contact line," he added.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting that began in April 2014 when rebels seized large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.