Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine on Thursday disbanded an army unit that lost six armoured vehicles to pro-Russian militants, as Kiev's military reeled from a disastrous attempt to oust separatists in its eastern regions.
"The 25th parachute brigade, members of which showed cowardice and gave up their weapons, will be demobilized and the guilty servicemen brought before court," acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament.
Ukraine's enfeebled army suffered a major embarrassment Wednesday as a much-hyped "anti-terrorist" operation to force pro-Moscow protesters out of a string of eastern towns descended into humiliating farce when separatists seized six armoured personnel carriers and forced another mechanised column of troops to disarm.
Ukraine's defence ministry said in a statement Thursday that the column of armoured vehicles and soldiers blockaded a day earlier by pro-Russian activists in the town of Kramatorsk was returning to base after the tense stand-off.
The capitulation represents a serious blow to the fragile morale of Ukraine's embattled armed forces and Kiev's hopes of reimposing its authority over its industrial heartland.
High-level talks aimed at ending the escalating crisis involving the top diplomats of Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union were being held in Geneva on Thursday.
Ukraine has accused the Kremlin of masterminding the unrest sweeping the east, allegations that Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Elsewhere in the region, Ukrainian national guard troops repelled an overnight attack on their base in the southeast city of Mariupol, killing three of the assailants and wounding 13, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Thursday.
Around 300 people mounted the attack using guns and petrol bombs on the interior ministry troops, none of whom was hurt, Avakov said.