KIEV - Five Ukrainian soldiers who were detained last week in Russia on suspicion of war crimes have been released and have returned to Ukraine, the National Security and Defence Council in Kiev said Sunday.
"At 1:40 am, Russia handed over to Ukrainian border guards five troops... who had been illegally detained on the territory of the Russian Federation," the council's spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.
"All five officers have been taken to a safe place," he added.
The soldiers had gone over the border in a huge contingent of over 400 servicemen on Monday.
Moscow claimed they had surrendered and were switching sides but Kiev said they were forced to withdraw over the border after running out of ammunition in battles with pro-Russian rebels.
Russian investigators accused the soldiers of using heavy weapons indiscriminately, wounding or killing at least 10 civilians and destroying 20 homes in the region near the eastern Ukrainian rebel-held city of Lugansk.
War crimes charges would have carried penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
The spokesman for the Russian Investigation Committee Vladimir Markin told state news agency Ria Novosti Sunday that "the probe revealed that the men only followed orders from their command and did not directly commit any crimes." "It has been decided not to bring any charges against them and to allow them to return to Ukraine," he added.
With these last five troops, all of the over 400 servicemen who crossed the border into Russia last week have now returned to Ukraine.