MOSCOW, OCT. 10 -- Three Soviet soldiers apparently intent on deserting from a military depot in the southern Ukraine, stole some machine guns from a weapons-storage facility and opened fire on other troops Tuesday, killing eight, Defense Ministry officials said today.

Two of the soldiers were arrested after the shooting, but the third was still at large tonight, official reports said. A lieutenant colonel was among the eight killed in the incident, which occurred in the village of Privetnoye.

It was the deadliest in a series of recent cases in which Soviet soldiers have used violent means in trying to escape the service. The killings also underscore a crisis in the Soviet military, which has been beset by a huge increase in the rate of draft evasion, especially in the independence-minded Baltic republics and Armenia. Dissidence within the ranks is also reported on the rise.

Soldiers here have complained of severe hazings, lack of housing and other poor living conditions in the army, and of generally low morale in the aftermath of the Afghanistan war and the pullouts from Eastern Europe. The military leadership also has said that the use of troops to intercede in ethnic turmoil in Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus has caused widespread fear and dissatisfaction in the ranks.

In another case this year, one of three deserting soldiers who stole grenades and other weapons was killed in a gunfight with loyal troops. The other two were arrested.

In Privetnoye, the three young deserters tried to escape by commandeering a truck, but it broke down after a couple of miles, according to reports. A Defense Ministry statement did not make clear how the fatal shooting started.

President Mikhail Gorbachev has promised to end hazing in the army and to improve living conditions for soldiers.