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21 Jun, 2014 17:31

Hundreds of E.Ukrainian refugees in firing line on Russian border

As mortar shells spilled into Russian territory Friday, hundreds of Eastern Ukrainians at Russia’s refugee camp near border had to be taken to centers further away. Currently the two shelled checkpoints are only working for refugees.

Two Russian checkpoints on the border with Ukraine in Rostov region – Novoshakhtinsk and Donetsk – were closed on Saturday following mortar shelling and shooting the day before.

The checkpoints are being inspected for undetonated explosives while Russian prosecutors are trying to find out the circumstances of the incidents.

Donetsk and Novoshakhtinsk are admitting nobody into Russia except Ukrainian refugees,” spokesman of the Border Service in the Rostov Region, Vasily Malayev, said.

Russia set up a refugee camp in Novoshakhtinsk near the border with Ukraine to house the increasing number of Eastern Ukrainians fleeing from Kiev’s shelling their homes.

A family from southeastern Ukraine at a checkpoint in Donetsk, Rostov Region, June 20, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pivovarov)

On Friday, Russian Border Guards had to take urgent measures to protect several hundred eastern Ukrainians staying in the refugee camp as mortar shells starting flying in from Ukraine, Malayev said.

“Taking into account the threat to the people’s lives due to shelling from the Ukrainian side, border guards decided to apply simplified admittance rules and led people to temporary refugee centers located at a safe distance,” he told RIA Novosti.

The first round of shelling, when Novoshakhtinsk checkpoint was hit by mortars, occurred as Lugansk self-defense forces clashed with Ukrainian military joined by the National Guard at Ukrainian checkpoint Dolzhansky.

The Ukrainian army launched mortars at Dolzhansky, controlled by self-defense, and several shells hit Russia’s territory, said Russian officials and local residents. The Russian checkpoint was severely damaged and a Customs Service employee was severely injured.

“They started shooting from the Ukrainian checkpoint, it was scary,” a witness from the refugee camp told Russia's Channel 1.

Two more checkpoints on the Ukrainian side of the border – Izvarino and Uspenka – were reportedly fired at overnight.

A group of Ukrainian border guards had to seek shelter on Russian territory at Donetsk border checkpoint fleeing “unidentified armed attackers,” Malayev said. Some of them were wounded and transported to the nearest medical facility.

On Saturday, the six wounded border guards were handed over to the Ukrainian side, the assistant of the head of the Ukrainian State Border Service, Sergey Astahov, told RIA.

In response to the incidents, the Russian Foreign Ministry filed a protest note to Kiev demanding an immediate explanation and investigation, calling the shelling a “direct provocation”. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense however refuted the claims that the Ukrainian army was responsible for shelling Russian territory with mortars on Friday.

Ukrainian refugees in Rostov region asked the representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Russia to help organize a “humanitarian corridor for Lugansk self-defense and to evacuate the children”, RIA Novosti reported them as saying.

"It is necessary for your observers to stand there, with them standing there they will not dare to bomb us," said one of the refugees.

“The National Guard is committing horrible crimes – [the people] are killed, slaughtered, the men are executed by shooting,” one of the refugees told Russia's Channel 1.

Women from southeastern Ukraine at a refugee camp in Donetsk, Rostov Region, June 20, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pivovarov)