(QHA) -

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lit a candle in church to honor those wounded fighting Ukrainian government forces in rebel-held South-East Ukraine.

"Who did I light a candle for? For those who were injured and those who gave their lives defending people in Novorossiya[New Russia,-ed.]"- Putin said, referring to southeastern Ukrainian regions, stronghold for pro-Russian separatist.

Kyiv and NATO say Russia has sent thousands of soldiers to eastern Ukraine, where separatists hold two provincial capitals and rebel gains that preceded the signing of the cease-fire deal on September 5.

Russia denies involvement, despite evidence including funerals of soldiers believed to have died in Ukraine.

Note: Novorossia is a tsarist-era name for a broad strip of land encompassing much of eastern and southern Ukraine.