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Russia's Putin urges release of Ukrainian soldiers

People observe damage done to a house after shelling in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict. (Photo By The Associated Press)
People observe damage done to a house after shelling in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict. (Photo By The Associated Press)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, August 29, 2014 07:44 am
MOSCOW — Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine.Putin's statement came several hours after Ukraine accused Russia of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops, and Western powers accused Moscow of lying about its role and dangerously escalating the conflict.

NATO said at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine and later released what it said were satellite photos of Russian self-propelled artillery units moving last week

"I'm calling on insurgents to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops who were surrounded in order to avoid senseless deaths," Putin said in the statement published on the Kremlin's web-site in the early hours on Friday.

Putin did not address the claims about Russia's military presence in Ukraine. Instead, he lauded the pro-Russian separatists whom he described as "insurgents" for "undermining Kiev's military operation which threatened lives of the residents of Donbass and has already led to a colossal death toll among civilians."

Putin's statement could be referring to Ukrainian troops who have been trapped outside the strategic town of Ilovaysk, east of Donetsk, for nearly a week now. Protesters rallied outside the Ukrainian General Staff on Thursday, demanding reinforcements and heavy weaponry for the troops outside Ilovaysk, most of whom are volunteers.

A top rebel leader in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk promptly reacted to Putin's appeal but said the Ukrainian troops would have to lay down the arms before they were allowed to go.

"With all our respect to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the president of a country which gives us moral support, we are ready to open humanitarian corridors to the Ukrainian troops who were surrounded with the condition that they surrender heavy weaponry and ammunition so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future," Alexander Zakharchenko said on Russia's state Rossiya 24 television.

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