ReutersA man, who according to Ukraine's state security service (SBU) is named Alexander Alexandrov and is one of two Russian servicemen recently detained by Ukrainian forces, during an interview with Reuters at a hospital in Kiev.
From his hospital bed in the Ukrainian capital, Russian fighter Alexander Alexandrov feels abandoned by his country, its leaders, and even the local Russian consul.
Alexandrov, 28, says he's a Russian soldier who was captured in eastern Ukraine after being sent there on active duty with Russian special forces to help separatists fighting Kiev.
He said he was serving on a three-year contract.
"I never tore it up, I wrote no resignation request," he said. "I was carrying out my orders."
Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the face of widespread evidence to the contrary, has repeatedly said there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine - only volunteers who have gone to help the separatists of their own accord.
So Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, another Russian who was captured with him, find themselves pawns in the deepest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
ReutersA man, according to Ukraine's state security service (SBU) named Yevgeny Yerofeyev, who is one of two Russian servicemen recently detained by Ukrainian forces, during an interview with Reuters at a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine, on Thursday.
They believe they should be treated as captured servicemen. But Moscow will not acknowledge they are any such thing or that it has sent any soldiers into Ukraine to help wrest swaths of the east away from Kiev's control. To do so would undermine Moscow's claims that the separatist uprising there is a spontaneous reaction by Russian-speaking communities against Kiev.
The Kremlin has described the two men as Russian citizens, and Russia's defense ministry has said they are former soldiers who left the military before they were captured.
Disowned at home, the two men stand accused by Ukrainian authorities of being terrorists.
In an interview from his bed, Alexandrov, wearing a hospital-issue green T-shirt and with several days stubble on his face, told Reuters he felt alone and trapped between these vast forces. He said the Russian consul in Kiev had visited him and Yerofeyev but had been a letdown. The two captives had hoped Moscow would get them home in a prisoner exchange, but they said the consul had been noncommittal.
"I asked him a few questions; there was no answer to them," said Alexandrov, whose leg was shattered in a gun battle. "He said that when he has the answers, he will come again and let us know what they are."
The Russian embassy in Kiev had no comment on Friday. In an earlier statement it had described Alexandrov and Yerofeyev as "Russian citizens detained in the Luhansk region" and said they were receiving proper medical treatment. "Embassy officials plan to visit the compatriots regularly," the statement said.
ReutersMap of recent clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. Includes February's cease-fire line and cease-fire withdrawal zones.
Ukrainian armed servicemen and officials in civilian clothes were present during the interviews Alexandrov and Yerofeyev gave to Reuters. Both Russian men made it clear they were active service members of the Russian military on the day they were captured. Alexandrov said he knew his military identification number by heart: E131660.
He also said he feared for his relatives back in Russia. A few days ago, his wife, Yekaterina, appeared on Russian state television. Looking nervous, and talking in stilted phrases, she said her husband had quit the Russian military in December last year. That account was helpful to Putin's claims that only volunteer Russians had gone to Ukraine.
"They said I was no longer a serviceman," Alexandrov said. "It's a bit hurtful, especially when they do it through your family, through your wife. That crosses a line."
ReutersYerofeyev being examined by a medic at a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine, on Thursday.
Alexandrov, who was captured May 16, said he had been unable to get in touch with his wife by telephone for nearly two weeks. She has not replied to his messages posted on social-media accounts. A photograph of him with his wife stood on the table next to his bedside.
He said Yekaterina always used to pick up his calls, even before they were married, when sometimes he would call in the middle of the night. He asked to borrow a Reuters correspondent's mobile telephone so he could try calling her. Yerofeyev, also in a green T-shirt, his right arm in a bandage binding it to his torso, came into the room and watched.
Alexandrov dictated the number to the correspondent, and checked it was correct. With the phone in speaker mode, the call connected, and the ringing tone could be heard.