The Guardian has found more evidence of Russian military hardware operating inside Ukraine, spotting an armoured vehicle marked with the symbol of the Russian army's "peacekeeping forces".
The armoured personnel carrier was well inside Ukraine, in Lutuhyne, a town near Luhansk, where a Ukrainian military convoy was destroyed by artillery and Grad missiles last week.
Amid the remains of the destroyed Ukrainian column, three soldiers stood by an intact armoured personnel carrier on Tuesday afternoon.
The men, who refused to be photographed, said they were from Russia and were not regular soldiers, saying they were paid mercenaries.
They did not say who was paying them.
Their vehicle was marked in three places with a blue circle and the yellow Cyrillic letters MC – the Russian abbreviation for "peacekeeping forces".
Many of these have been seen moving on the other side of the border in recent weeks, and the vehicle's presence was yet more evidence of what Moscow has continually denied – that its soldiers are active in east Ukraine.
In many cases, separatists have claimed that columns are not Russian military vehicles but trophies stolen from the Ukrainian army.
However, the distinctive MC peacekeeping signs are only featured on Russian vehicles, used on peacekeeping missions in the Caucasus and Transnistria.
"Ukraine's only peacekeeping missions are with the UN, and those vehicles are painted white. If it has the blue and yellow symbol, it has to be Russian," said Oleksiy Melnyk, a Ukrainian military analyst at Kiev's Razumkov Centre.
Half an hour after the APC was first spotted, one of the soldiers could be seen painting over the MC signs with black paint.
When the Guardian returned to the scene on Wednesday, the vehicle was gone.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, said 70% of Russian forces had already left Ukraine after taking part in a surge against the Ukrainian army that pushed Kiev into signing a ceasefire agreement.
Driving on the road from Donetsk to Luhansk, several small convoys of trucks and armoured vehicles were visible that looked very different to the irregular rebel forces, and appeared to be manned by regular Russian troops.
The men by the armoured vehicle in Lutuhyne did not look as well equipped as other Russians seen in Ukraine in recent weeks; one of them was even wearing trainers, but it appeared clear that at least the vehicle came from official Russian military stock.
Last month, the Guardian witnessed a Russian armoured column cross the border near the Izvaryne border post.
Russia denied it had happened, claiming the convoy was a border patrol that stayed on the border.
Later, when Russian paratroopers were captured inside Ukraine, Moscow also said it was a border patrol, claiming they had got lost and crossed the border "by accident".
Source: The Guardian