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On early Monday a group of 438 Ukrainian troops and border guards from pro-Kiev forces fighting against militia in the embattled southeast of Ukraine asked Russia’s southern border authorities for permission to enter Russia seeking asylum, and a humanitarian corridor was opened for them.
Maria Zakharova wrote in her Facebook account that as the news broke out on Monday about over 400 Ukrainian soldiers crossing into Russia seeking asylum, the Russian Foreign Ministry decided to arrange a meeting with the soldiers for foreign journalists accredited in Russia.
“Keeping in mind how important it will be for journalists, particularly for foreign ones, to talk to Ukrainian military servicemen, to learn firsthand about the real combat actions, motivation of the Ukrainian soldiers and the actual reasons behind their decision [to seek asylum], we decided to invite a group of foreign correspondents to the Rostov Region,” Zakharova said.
She said an aircraft from the Russian Defense Ministry was scheduled for flight on Monday to the Rostov Region, where the Ukrainian soldiers were temporary sheltered, and the plane was ready to take along a group of between 30 and 40 journalists.
“We have immediately started calling everyone,” she said. “We gathered up to 40 [correspondents] within an hour.”
However, Zakharova said, there was only Bloomberg news agency representative in the group as the rest of the US media decided to decline the ministry’s initiative.
“Except for Bloomberg there were no journalists representing US media!!! An opportunity to meet with the Ukrainian military servicemen, who crossed into the Russian territory, was declined by representatives of leading US media,” she said. “They were CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor.”
“What are these journalists base their materials upon if they decline talking to firsthand sources?” Zakharova said. “The funniest episode was with Reuters journalist, who registered, left for the airport, but changed his mind half way there and did not fly.”
“Russia is being criticized for little interaction with western media and it is allegedly the reason for Russia’s media blackout,” she said. “But the fact is that we speak and they either refuse to listen or they are prohibited from listening.”
The Ukrainian military servicemen, who laid down arms and crossed into Russia, were accommodated in a tent camp that was set up for them near the Gukovo border checkpoint in Russia’s Rostov Region.
The soldiers expressed surprise over being treated well on the Russian territory as, according to them, news information they gathered earlier from Kiev media was in sharp contrast to the reality they saw.
“We could have a bath, received new clothes. We are very grateful,” one of them told Russian LifeNews online television channel.
According to the Ukrainian soldier, before they crossed the border they had been told that Russia was an “aggressor country” engaged in combat operations against them, but now they found out that it was not true, he added.
Pro-Kiev troops and local militias in Donetsk and Lugansk regions are involved in fierce clashes as the Ukrainian armed forces are conducting a military operation to regain control over the breakaway regions, which on May 11 proclaimed their independence at local referendums.
During the military operation, Kiev has used armored vehicles, heavy artillery and attack aviation. Many buildings have been destroyed and tens of thousands of people have had to flee Ukraine’s embattled Southeast.