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KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president spoke with the leaders of Russia, Germany and France today to figure out how best to resolve the deadly conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the east.
The telephone call between President Petro Poroshenko, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande took place as an expiration deadline neared for Ukraine’s shaky, unilateral cease-fire.
Poroshenko has already extended the cease-fire from seven days to 10 as part of a plan to end the conflict that has killed more than 400 people. The cease-fire has been continuously broken, however, and rebels have not laid down their weapons as Poroshenko has demanded.
Poroshenko said during the call that the conditions, agreed in a four-way talk a day earlier, “haven’t been fulfilled,” but the statement released by his office didn’t say whether the cease-fire would be extended. It expires at 3 p.m.
French officials said today’s phone call touched on establishing a full cease-fire by both sides, having international monitors on the border between Russia and Ukraine, freeing prisoners and holding substantial talks with Ukraine’s separatist rebels.
European leaders have urged Russia to use its influence with the rebels to de-escalate the conflict and warned that they could impose another round of economic sanctions against Russia if the conditions for continuing the cease-fire are not met.
Those conditions included a demand that the separatists hand back three checkpoints on the border with Russia that they have seized.
Rebel leader Alexander Borodai on Monday welcomed having observers monitor the situation anywhere in the region but rejected the demand to hand back the border checkpoints. Rebels have previously kidnapped several teams of monitors.
Stymied by the rebels’ refusal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Putin suggested to Poroshenko that both Ukrainian monitors and observers from the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe deploy to checkpoints on the Russian side of the border to ensure “they aren’t used for illegal means.”
“We expect that direct and detailed consultations between Russian and Ukrainian border guards will start shortly to agree on details of the monitors’ presence,” Lavrov said in televised remarks.
A Kremlin statement said foreign ministers from the four countries would quickly carry the four-way talks to discuss the issues by the leaders — a distinct cold shoulder to further efforts from the United States or the full European Union to be involved in Ukraine’s protracted crisis.
Sporadic fighting still flared Monday despite the cease-fire. Shelling killed at least two people and ruined several apartments in the rebel-held city of Slovyansk in the eastern region of Donetsk.
Poroshenko says his unilateral cease-fire is a first step to give rebels a chance to lay down their arms. Further steps would include an amnesty for separatists who have not committed serious crimes, early local elections and changes in the constitution to decentralize power to Ukraine’s regions.
But in Slovyansk, shooting kept up through the night, growing heavy at times Monday morning. Some of the shelling appeared to be directed at rebel front-line positions but other shells landed in a residential neighborhood, destroying or damaging several buildings.
One woman, 62-year-old Vera Sayenko, died when a shell hit her ninth floor apartment, neighbors told an AP journalist, as well as another woman during shelling.
“Everything we have collected in our life is destroyed. We have become poor,” said Valery, whose apartment was also destroyed. He would not give his last name. “Show all Ukrainians what happened here. What else do they want, to ruin the town and kill people?”
Ukrainian police and prosecutors were also investigating the death of a Russian cameraman working for Russia’s Channel One. Anatoly Klyan, 68, was fatally wounded late Sunday when a bus carrying journalists and soldiers’ mothers was hit by gunfire as it approached a military base in eastern Ukraine after dark.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry blamed the attack on Ukrainian soldiers and demanded an objective investigation.
Klyan was the fifth journalist to die since the fighting began in April.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began after a protest movement among those seeking closer ties with the EU prompted President Viktor Yanukovych to flee in February. Calling it an illegal coup, Russia seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, saying it was protecting Russian speakers. The insurrection in the east began shortly afterward.
Ukraine signed a trade and political deal with the EU last week, the one that Yanukovych had rejected.