Kiev: Global leaders scrambled today to convince the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian insurgents to halt nearly three months of fighting whose resumption has further upset East-West ties.
Clashes in the economically-vital industrial border regions of Lugansk and Donetsk picked up with renewed vigour when Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tore up a 10-day truce because of continuing rebel attacks.
Poroshenko`s decision Monday was immediately followed by the launch of a "massive" offensive by Kiev that drew warnings from Russian President Vladimir Putin about his right to protect compatriots in Ukraine.
Donetsk authorities said the eastern city of nearly one million people was shaken overnight by the echoes of blasts from battles raging on its outskirts.
The local council in the separatist stronghold of Lugansk said one civilian was killed and at least eight injured by shelling.
Ukraine`s military reported it lost one man in rebel raids that included brief assaults on airfields near Lugansk and the flashpoint city of Kramatorsk.
A spokesman for Kiev`s forces claimed 150 pro-Kremlin gunmen had been "eliminated". Similar unverified claims, which the rebels deny, have been made throughout the conflict.
The uprising in eastern Ukraine was sparked by the ousting in February of a pro-Kremlin administration in Kiev, and was encouraged by Russia`s subsequent seizure of Crimea.
So far it has claimed more than 460 lives and left parts of the industrial rustbelt in ruins.
The low-scale warfare on the European Union`s eastern frontier has also unified the West in its biggest pushback to date against Putin`s seeming attempt to reassert command over former Soviet lands.
Russia now faces the threat of devastating economic sanctions should Putin fail to explicitly order the militias to lay down their arms.
France and Germany still hoping to avoid new punitive steps that would damage their own economies are now spearheading efforts to set up new Contact Group discussions that until now have failed to yield results.
US President Barack Obama and British Foreign Secretary William Hague both called on Putin yesterday to make sure the separatists attend the talks.
The Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers agreed in Berlin on Wednesday to meet for talks involving separatist leaders and mediated by a European envoy by tomorrow.
Unnamed sources told Russian media that the talks had been tentatively scheduled for this evening somewhere in Ukraine.
But Kiev refuses to convene the meeting again in rebel-held Donetsk a location backed strongly by Moscow.