The Ukrainian parliament has given preliminary approval to allowing foreigners to serve in its army.

A military conflict between Russia-backed separatist rebels and Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 6,100 lives. Thousands of Russians have been fighting along with the rebels since the start of the conflict. Foreigners have also fought in pro-government volunteer battalions which have recently been required to merge with the armed forces or police.

The Supreme Rada voted Tuesday on the first reading of the bill to let foreigners serve in the Ukrainian army and amended a law that gives prison time for mercenaries. The bill, if it passes in the second and third readings, will allow foreigners to serve only as privates or junior officers.