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article imageUkraine jails alleged Russian soldier fighting in east

By AFP     Jan 26, 2018 in World

Ukraine sentenced an alleged Russian soldier to 10 years in prison over charges he fought against the Ukrainian army in the country's separatist east, his lawyer told AFP Friday.

Moscow has long rejected claims from Kiev and the West that Russian troops are operating in eastern Ukraine, saying only off-duty soldiers and volunteers could be found fighting alongside rebels.

Viktor Ageyev, 22, who was captured by Ukrainian troops in the breakaway Lugansk region in June last year, was sentenced by a local court on Thursday, his lawyer Viktor Chevguz said.

The Russian national was found guilty of "participating in a terrorist organisation", the attorney said.

Under Ukrainian law the self-proclaimed Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics are terrorist groups.

Shortly after his capture, Ageyev told Western media, including AFP, he was sent "on assignment" to Ukraine by the Russian military and belonged to a unit from the Russian Rostov region bordering Ukraine.

He also said he had an official contract with the Russian army that was signed in March 2017.

But the Russian defence ministry said Ageyev resigned from the army in May 2016. During the trial, Ageyev himself also denied his previous testimonies.

"He is not a Russian soldier. He is just a Russian citizen, who came as a volunteer," his attorney Chevguz told AFP.

"He admitted to having illegally crossed the border ... and joining the armed group. But he did not participate in the fighting, he shot nobody," he said.

"We will appeal the decision regardless of whether he (Ageyev) gets on the list for exchange or not," the lawyer added.

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

The Ukrainian military reported Ageyev was captured as a member of a reconnaissance group that clashed with government troops, resulting in the death of two rebel gunmen, including one professional Russian soldier.

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.

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