Two Russian men wounded during fighting in eastern Ukraine said in video interviews that they remain active-duty soldiers, contradicting statements from the Defense Ministry in Moscow that they had resigned from the military.
The interviews published on Friday on the website of Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper were conducted in the hospital in Kiev, where the men identified as Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev are recovering after being detained by Ukrainian government forces on Saturday.
“I haven’t resigned yet,” said Yerofeyev, who was wounded in the shoulder, from his bed. “I was there on a military mission to observe both sides of the conflict.”
The Kremlin, Russia’s Defense Ministry and its Foreign Ministry have all denied that the men held in Kiev are current soldiers. President Vladimir Putin has stated repeatedly that no Russian troops are involved in the yearlong conflict in Ukraine between government forces and separatists that has claimed more than 6,100 lives and provoked the biggest confrontation between Russia and the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War.
“It’s just a sad situation, that we have been forgotten, abandoned,” Yerofeyev said, according to the transcript. “They want to flush us away, write us off.”
Alexandrov told his interviewer that he remained a soldier “as far as I know. I haven’t resigned, haven’t signed any papers.” The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday that the men had trained as soldiers but were not active “at the time of their arrest.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had nothing to add to previous statements about the men. “These are Russian citizens who are in detention and obviously, in this case, the Russian side is taking the necessary steps to secure their release,” he told reporters in a conference call on Friday.
According to Yerofeyev, who is described as a captain, his group had orders to open fire only in self-defense and the shootout occurred when they accidentally encountered Ukrainian soldiers. He said he wasn’t part of any official monitoring mission and was acting on orders from his Russian army commander as a reconnaissance scout to check which side in the conflict violated a cease-fire agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, in February.
He and Alexandrov were captured by Ukrainian forces after they were wounded and left behind. One Ukrainian soldier died and three were wounded in the clash, during which bullets that aren’t produced in Ukraine were used, Andriy Taranov, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential staff, said on May 18.
Russian state TV channels broadcast interviews this week with relatives of the detained men, stating that they resigned from the army several months ago.
“I understand they turn their back on me as a serviceman,” Yerofeyev said in the video. “But I am still a citizen of my country and I would like to see a representative here” from the Russian embassy.
Officials from the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Red Cross have all visited him, he said.
Russian diplomats in Kiev have been trying for three days to gain access to the two men, which has been refused by Ukrainian authorities, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.