Ukraine says Russian soldier killed in clashes in east

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Ukraine says Russian soldier killed in clashes in east

Kiev (AFP) - A Russian military officer fighting alongside Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine was killed and another Russian captured in recent skirmishes with Ukrainian forces, Kiev said Wednesday.

A reconnaissance group of the self-proclaimed separatist Lugansk People's Republic clashed with Ukrainian government troops on June 24, resulting in the death of two rebel gunmen, Ukraine's General Staff said in a statement.

It said one of the gunmen was a group commander and "professional Russian soldier," who it named as Captain Alexander Shcherbak.

Four rebel militants were captured, including "22-year-old Russian citizen, a resident of Altai region," the statement added.

The Ukrainian army said Wednesday that documents found on the captive indicated he once served in the Russian army, but it did not say if he was on active duty at the time of his capture.

"He served earlier, but whether he was on active military duty when he was captured -- I do not have such information," Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told AFP.

On Wednesday, the BBC's Russian service, referring to former fellow soldiers of the captive Russian, identified him as Viktor Ageyev, a soldier in the Russian army.

The report said that Ageyev was meant to serve in south Russia's Rostov region which borders Ukraine, but quoted a former fellow soldier as saying that Ageyev "is currently in Ukraine" as "a contract soldier".

Russia's defence ministry denied the report, saying that Ageyev had indeed served as a Russian army conscript but quit in May 2016 and "never served as a contract soldier in Russia's Armed Forces."

In a separate incident, a Ukrainian security service officer was killed in a car blast in the war zone under Kiev control as another three men were wounded, the SBU security service said.

"The preliminary cause of death is a car bombing," the SBU said in its statement on Wednesday.

The blast took place in a government controlled part of eastern Donetsk region, it said. The three injured individuals were hospitalised.

More than 10,000 people have died since the Russian-backed insurgency in Ukraine began in April 2014. Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of orchestrating the conflict and of smuggling weapons and troops across the border.

Russia denies the allegations, saying only that off-duty soldiers and volunteers could be found fighting alongside with rebels.

But Kiev regularly reports killing or capturing Russian soldiers in the war zones, and in May 2016 it swapped two Russian soldiers to the release of a female Ukrainian military pilot.