UK troops start training mission in Ukraine: ministry

Prime Minister David Cameron addresses British troops at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan on October 3, 2014 (AFP Photo/Dan Kitwood) (pool/AFP)

London (AFP) - British troops have begun a training mission in Ukraine, helping government forces fighting pro-Russian separatists, the Ministry of Defence in London said Thursday.

The BBC reported that 35 personnel are in the southern city of Mykolaiv as part of a two-month mission, although the ministry spokeswoman declined to confirm the details.

"The first elements of the training package began in March... We have got troops out there training," she told AFP, adding: "The numbers will vary depending on the schedule."

Ministers announced last month that up to 75 troops at a time would be deployed to Ukraine, providing training on tactical intelligence, logistics and medical care.

However, the British government has ruled out supplying any lethal equipment to the Ukrainian forces.

"The UK is committed to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's aggression," the spokeswoman said.

"The gifting of non-lethal equipment is designed to prevent further Ukrainian fatalities and casualties and to help improve situational awareness on the ground.

"Our overall aim is to strengthen the defensive capability of the Ukrainian armed forces and build the resilience that they need."

More than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting in Ukraine in the past year, but a February 12 ceasefire between government and pro-Russian forces has largely held.

The focus has now shifted to the political elements of the peace deal, which require Kiev to surrender a degree of control over rebel-held areas.