KIEV, Aug 27 (Reuters) - The Ukrainian military said on Wednesday that more Russian soldiers had crossed the border into eastern Ukraine, entering the small town of Amvrosiyivka in five armored infantry carriers and a truck.
The report of a further cross-border incursion by Russian troops followed the capture by Ukrainian government forces of a group of Russian paratroopers in roughly the same area.
Moscow said the captured troops had strayed into Ukraine by mistake but Kiev said they had been on a "special mission" linked to the pro-Russian separatist rebellions in the east.
"Five armored infantry carriers and one Kamaz truck entered Amvrosiyivka with men in them," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists in Kiev.
"If this tactical group got lost and accidentally came into Ukraine like the paratroops of the 98th paratroop division then it remains for us to remind them that they can return to Russia, taking an easterly direction," Lysenko remarked.
Fighting was meanwhile continuing in key settlements near the rebel-held city of Donetsk despite peace talks on Tuesday in Minsk between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia's Vladimir Putin at which the Ukrainian leader pledged to work on a road map that would lead to a ceasefire.
Over the past 24 hours, Lysenko said, there had been intense fighting further north near the town of Horlivka and Ilovaysk, about 50 km (30 miles) away in which 200 separatists had been killed and their tanks and missile systems destroyed.
Thirteen Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in the past 24 hours in 34 clashes at points across eastern and south-eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian military officials say the separatists, backed by Russian soldiers and armed with armor and military equipment coming from across the border, have switched the focus in the war towards the south-east of Ukraine down to the Azov Sea.
Military successes there for the separatists could put in danger the key port city of Mariupol, held at the moment by government forces. If separatists got a grip on the south-east they could reinforce their positions in Donetsk from the south.
Lysenko said that rebels "together with the Russian occupiers" had taken the settlement of Starobesheve, south-east from Donetsk, destroying a hospital in the process. Wounded, he said, were being evacuated south.
The video footage of the captured Russian paratroopers is the strongest evidence yet to support Kiev's claims of Russian involvement in the five-month conflict in which the United Nations says more than 2,000 people - troops, civilians and rebels - have been killed.
The crisis, which followed the ousting of a Moscow-backed president in Ukraine by street protests and a take-over by a pro-Western leadership has sparked the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Separately, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk on Tuesday said Ukraine needed "practical help" from the U.S.-led NATO alliance, with which it has the status of a special partner, and expected it to take "momentous" decisions in this regard at its summit in Wales in early September.
"We need help," Yatseniuk told a government meeting.
Though Ukraine is not a NATO member and does not qualify for direct military support from the alliance, NATO has taken Kiev's side in the conflict, blaming Russia for creating the crisis by annexing Crimea in March and fueling the rebellions in the east and arming the separatists. (Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Alessandra Prentice; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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.