Russia says 400 Ukrainian soldiers seek refuge

Moscow - Russia said on Monday that more than 400 Ukrainian soldiers had sought refuge on its territory, a fact which Ukraine has only partially confirmed and without citing any figures.

The Ukrainian soldiers "asked for a humanitarian corridor during the night from Sunday to Monday" across the Ukrainian-Russian border, a regional official of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) was quoted as saying by the Russian news agencies Interfax and ITAR-TASS.

"The Russian border guards opened a humanitarian corridor and admitted [onto Russian territory] 438 soldiers of the Ukrainian army" who surrendered their weapons, said FSB official Vasily Malayev.

One wounded soldier was hospitalised, he added.

A Ukrainian spokesperson told AFP that a number of the country's soldiers "were forced to pull back towards a Russian border post following an attempt to break through" lines of pro-Russian rebels.

But the soldiers "did not surrender," said Oleksiy Dmitrashkivsky, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military operations in the east of the country against pro-Russian rebels.

He did not specify the number of soldiers involved.

The press office of the Ukrainian border service said according to its information the soldiers had run out of ammunition.

The Russian government was due to present the Ukrainian soldiers to the media on Monday.

Russian television on Sunday broadcast an interview with an unnamed Ukrainian commander who said he led his unit of a dozen troops across the border to save their lives.

Ukrainian forces have stepped up operations in the area near the Russia border in an attempt to encircle the pro-Russian rebels around the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Kiev has accused Russia of supplying weapons to the rebels, a charge Moscow has denied.