KIEV, Aug 26 (Reuters) - 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.
The Ukrainian military meanwhile reported pro-Russian separatist forces were shelling the town of Novoazovsk and buildings there, including a hospital, were ablaze.
Twelve Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 19 wounded in the past 24 hours, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.
Earlier, the security services released video footage purporting to show testimonies from Russian paratroopers who were detained by Ukrainian government forces while fighting alongside pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine.
The videos, the strongest evidence yet to back up Kiev's claims of Russian involvement in the conflict, and the intensified fighting in the east overshadowed a meeting between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia's Vladimir Putin in the Belarussian capital Minsk.
Russia denies giving military help to the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
A Russian defense ministry source, quoted by RIA Novosti,
said the servicemen had strayed into Ukrainian territory by mistake during border patrol.
Ukraine rejected this.
"It wasn't a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out," Lysenko said in a briefing.
In footage posted on Kiev's Anti-Terrorist Operation Facebook page, one of the detained soldiers, who identified himself as Ivan Milchakov, listed his personal details, including the name of the paratroop regiment 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 march over three days," he said.
"Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We've come as cannon fodder," he said in the video.
Another man in the footage, who gave his name as Sergeant Aleksei Generalov, said: "Stop sending in our boys. Why? This is not our war. And if we weren't here, none of this would have happened. They would have sorted things out with the government themselves."
Social networking pages appear to corroborate the men's assertions they are actively serving in the Russian military.
Photographs posted by an Ivan Melchakov of himself on Russia social media site Vkontakte are recognizable as the same person who appears in the video released by Ukraine's SBU under the name Milchakov. His page is filled with pictures of soldiers in camouflage.
Aleksei Generalov's profile photo on the site Odnoklassniki shows him smiling into the camera in military fatigues, while the Vkontakte page of another detained soldier, named as Egor Pochtoev, shows him in paratrooper uniform and a post that he is "on assignment."
The Russian soldiers were detained with their personal documents and weapons, near the small town of Amvrosiyivka in Donetsk region, the Ukrainian state security service said.
Lysenko also said Russian Mi-24 helicopters had fired on a border post on Monday, killing four border guards, while rebel attacks on Novoazovsk were happening "at this very minute."
Rebel forces, backed by an armored column which the Ukrainian military said moved across the border from Russia, began attacking Novoazovsk on Monday aiming to open up a new front in the south.
Government forces in the five-month conflict have largely hemmed in separatist forces into the two main regional towns of Donetsk and Luhansk - a situation the separatist are trying to break out of.
Local resident Oleksiy said by phone on Sunday morning he saw a convoy of 18 armored vehicles without insignia on Ukrainian territory 15 km from the Russian border to the south of the village of Koloski, which is not far from where the paratroopers were detained.
This corresponds with the alleged route of the paratroopers captured in Ukraine. The soldiers departed from Russia's Rostov region on Sunday at 3 a.m., the Ukrainian security service said.
"Officially they are on military exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality they are involved in military aggression against Ukraine," Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said in a Facebook post. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice, Editing by Angus MacSwan)
BEFORE YOU GO
09/06/2014 6:08 PM EDT
Factory Ablaze After Artillery Fire Near Mariupol
Prolonged artillery fire was heard late on Saturday to the east of the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters reporter said, in what may be the first significant violation of a ceasefire declared little more than 24 hours earlier.
The reporter saw an industrial facility, a truck and a gas station ablaze in an area within the limits of Mariupol, a city of 500,000 people on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border.
The area had seen fierce fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists before the ceasefire took effect on Friday evening. It had been quiet since then until the artillery fire began late on Saturday.
"There has been an artillery attack. We received a number of impacts, we have no information about casualties," a Ukrainian officer told Reuters at the scene.
09/06/2014 6:03 PM EDT
Ukraine Battalion: Reports Of Civilian Casualties In Shelling
09/06/2014 6:00 PM EDT
#RussiaViolatedCeasefire Trends On Twitter
Twitter users are using the hashtag #RussiaViolatedCeasefire to blame Moscow for renewed violence in east Ukraine.
Hashtag #russiaviolatedceasefire is now showing up as a suggestion. Good work, fellow Ukrainians— неХуёвый Portland (@the_boris) September 6, 2014
Meanwhile, Lithuanian Ambassador to Sweden Eitvydas Bajarunas used the hashtag for call for more information, as rockets and shelling were reported in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
09/06/2014 5:43 PM EDT
Rockets Fired In Ukraine Amid Ceasefire
Witnesses in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are reporting sustained explosions outside the city and a volunteer battalion of Ukrainian fighters says Grad rockets are being fired at its positions.
The reports Saturday night come little more than a day after Ukraine and Russian-backed separatist rebels signed a cease-fire after more than four months of fighting in the country's east.
The cease-fire had appeared to largely been holding during much of the day.
But late Saturday, witnesses in Mariupol told The Associated Press by telephone that heavy explosions were coming from the city's eastern outskirts, where Ukrainian troops retain defensive lines against the rebels.
The volunteer Azov Battalion said on Facebook that their positions were hit by Grad rockets, but did not give details.
09/06/2014 4:49 PM EDT
Reports Of Shelling In Mariupol
BBC journalists Fergal Keane and Will Vernon in Ukraine's Mariupol say that shelling of the port city has resumed.
#Ukraine shelling started at approx 2235 local and is continuing— Fergal Keane (@fergalkeane47) September 6, 2014
#Ukraine On roof of hotel and can see flashes from explosions and hear powerful detonations.— Fergal Keane (@fergalkeane47) September 6, 2014
09/06/2014 12:21 PM EDT
ICRC Says Aid Trucks Forced Back By Shelling
The International Committee of the Red Cross said its aid trucks were forced to turn back on Saturday morning due to shelling in east Ukraine.
09/06/2014 10:59 AM EDT
Putin, Poroshenko Agree Cease-Fire Holding
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko agreed on Saturday in a telephone call that a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was generally holding but said further steps were needed to make it more durable.
The ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists took effect on Friday evening, part of a wider peace plan aimed at ending five months of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
"(The two leaders) also stressed the need for the maximum involvement of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in monitoring the situation ... and for cooperation in providing Ukrainian and international humanitarian help," Poroshenko's office said in a statement.
09/06/2014 10:58 AM EDT
Rebel Leader: Prisoner Exchange To Take Place Saturday
A separatist leader said that the rebels and Ukrainian government will begin the exchange of prisoners of war, part of the peace roadmap, later on Saturday, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Kiev said the details of the exchange were still being worked out.
09/05/2014 12:38 PM EDT
Peace Deal Outlined
New York Times Moscow bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar outlines the different aspects of the Ukrainian peace deal.
The Ukrainian National Information Agency released a list of the 14 points included in the cease-fire plan. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
2 some focused on cease-fire itself, some on practical steps to get the government functioning and some on Donbas political future. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
3 The agreement followed almost verbatim a cease-fire proposal first put out by Mr. Poroshenko in June.— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
4 14 points include amnesty for all those who disarm and who did not commit serious crimes, as well as the release of all hostages. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
5 Militias will be disbanded, and a 10-kilometer buffer zone established along Russian-Ukrainian border. Area subject to joint patrols— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
6 Separatists agreed to leave administrative buildings they control and broadcasts from Ukraine to resume on TV #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
7 On future, the agreement said power would be decentralized and the Russian language protected. Region consulted on selection of governor— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
8. Early elections and jobs....No mention of a chicken in every pot. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
09/05/2014 12:18 PM EDT
Obama: Hopeful But Skeptical
U.S. President Barack Obama said he was hopeful but skeptical about a ceasefire agreed in Ukraine on Friday and urged European allies to agree on new sanctions against Russia that could be suspended if the peace plan holds.
He also said he was leaving a two-day NATO summit in Wales confident that U.S. allies were prepared to join a broad coalition to take action to degrade and ultimately destroy Islamic State militants in Iraq.
"We also sent a strong message to Russia that actions have consequences. Today the United States and Europe are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia's financial, energy and defense sectors," Obama told a news conference.
NATO had made clear it would defend every ally, and that it supported Ukraine's sovereignty against what he called Russian aggression, he said.
"With respect to the ceasefire agreement, obviously we are hopeful but based on past experience also skeptical that in fact the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. So it has to be tested," the president said.