A Russian military officer fighting alongside Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine was killed and another Russian was captured during recent skirmishes with government forces, Kiev said on 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 that one of the gunmen was a group commander and “professional Russian soldier, 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 on Wednesday that documents found on the captive indicated he once served under a contract in the Russian army, but it did not say if he was on active duty at the time of capture. “He served earlier, but whether he was acting military when he was captured — I do not have such information,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told AFP.
Today, the BBC’s Russian service, referring to former fellow soldiers of the captive Russian, identified him as Viktor Ageyev, an officer in the Russian army. The report said that Ageyev was meant to serve in south Russia’s Rostov region which borders Ukraine, but that a fellow soldier had confirmed he “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.” 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.