20 Russian Paratroopers killed, 10 captured, dozens flee back across the border. Video of one being questioned...

Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine 'accidentally crossed border'

Ukrainians release images and video of Russian paratroopers captured in
Ukraine despite Moscow's repeated claims that its troops have never crossed
border

Eight of the ten captured soldiers who crossed into Ukraine

By
Roland Oliphant, Moscow

1:33PM BST 26 Aug 2014

Ten Russian paratroopers who were captured in Ukraine on Monday crossed the border "accidentally" during a routine frontier patrol, Russia's Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday.

Ukraine's Security Service, the SBU, said on Monday that the men were captured near the village of Dzerkalne, about 25 miles southeast of the rebels' besieged stronghold, the city of Donetsk.

The village is 13 miles north of the nearest section of the Russian border. In its first public admission that regular Russian forces had crossed into Ukraine, a defence ministry official said the troops had made a "mistake" because of the poorly marked border.

"These servicemen really did take part in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossing it likely by mistake at an unequipped and unmarked point, as far as we are aware they offered no resistance to the Ukrainian armed forces when arrested," a Ministry of Defence source
told Russia's state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

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Russia has previously vigorously denied that its troops have crossed into
Ukraine, despite repeated accusations from the Ukrainian and Western
governments that it is providing men and material to the pro-Russian rebels
fighting in the area.


The admission comes a day after the Ukrainian military said it repelled a
cross-border attack involving ten tanks, two infantry fighting vehicles and
two military trucks near the Sea of Azov. Ukraine described the attack,
which Moscow denied knowledge of, as an attempt to open a "second front"
in a southern part of Donetsk region previously relatively undisturbed by
fighting.


Meanwhile, Russian media published photographs of the fresh graves of two
young men in Pskov, Russia, who were widely reported to have been
paratroopers who died fighting in Ukraine. The names of the dead men and
some of those who were captured match social networking pages of young
soldiers with the same names.


In interrogation videos released by the SBU, four of the captured soldiers
identify themselves as Ivan Romantsov, Ivan Melchukov, Sergei Smirnov, and
Alexei Generalov. All are from the 98th Guards Airborne Division, which is
based in Kostroma in central Russia.


The videos, apparently filmed in a tent shortly after they were captured, show
the men visibly shaken but without obvious signs of physical injury.


It is unclear whether they were speaking under duress.


While their accounts vary, they each describe being deployed to Rostov region
in southern Russia on a "training exercise" several days
previously, before being sent on a "march" with a column of
vehicles with few orders and little understanding of where they were going.


None of the men said they had been told they were going to Ukraine or that
they were on a combat mission.


"They didn't say anything, just 'march 70 kilometres'," says the man
identified as Melchukov. "I guessed it, but I didn't know [we were in
Ukraine] until they started shelling us."


The man identified as Sgt Romantsov, who describes himself as the second in
command of a fighting vehicle, said his unit had been told to change
uniforms, paint over distinguishing marks on their vehicles and hand over
documents and mobile phones to their commanding officer before setting off.


"We asked why they were taking our phones off us, and the answer was we
would be near the Ukrainian border, and the Ukrainians could allegedly work
out our position from the phone signal and shell us," he says.


After crossing into Ukraine through fields, their column appears to have come
under fire before they were captured.


"My vehicle came under fire, and I realised it was not a drill," Sgt
Romantsov says.


It is not clear if any Russians died in the incident, although one of the men,
Smirnov, said at least one tracked fighting vehicle was struck by a shell
after they encountered tanks flying Ukrainian flags.


Melchukov said the column came under mortar fire, followed by Grad rockets "from
Russia." He does not say how he knew where the incoming rocket fire was
coming from.


The soldiers' fate is uncertain, although the defence source who spoke to RIA
Novosti hinted Moscow would expect the men to be returned to Russia because
Ukrainian troops crossing the other way had also been allowed to go home.


"We made no unnecessary fuss about it, but simply allowed all who wished
to return to Ukrainian territory at a safe place," the official said,
referring to several hundred Ukrainian soldiers who crossed the border in
July after running out of ammunition during a weeks-long battle with
separatists near the frontier.


Tuesday's incident comes nearly two weeks after the Telegraph witnessed a
column of unmarked armoured vehicles accompanied by trucks with Russian
military plates cross the border into Ukraine via a hole in the fence
earlier this month.


The Russian government forcefully denied any such incident had taken place,
saying that mobile patrols do move around border areas but never leave
Russian territory.


While the OSCE has observer missions at two official crossings, their mandate
does not extend to any point beyond those two checkpoints.


Other parts of the border are extremely porous and cross-crossed by unofficial
crossings and dirt tracks that have for years been used by locals to travel
between neighbouring villages.