Ukrainian troops and pro- Russian separatists were locked in fierce fighting in Ukraine's east yesterday, with a rebel commander acknowledging big losses among separatists heavily outgunned by government forces.
Even as President Petro Poroshenko prepared to unveil his blueprint for ending more than two months of rebellion, government forces said they were tightening the noose on separatists near Krasny Liman, north of the main regional hub of Donetsk.
One military source said 4,000 separatists were involved, while rebels sources in Donetsk said Ukrainian infantry supported by 20 tanks and many other armoured vehicles were storming the village of Yampil, about 12km east of Krasny Liman.
A top rebel commander, Igor Strelkov, reported "heavy losses" among the separatists.
"We beat off the first attack and destroyed one tank. But it is difficult to take on 20 tanks," he said, urging Moscow to "take some measures".
There was no word on casualties from the government side.
Poroshenko, installed as a president on June 7, is pushing a peace plan to end the rebellion which he said would be unveiled soon and presented to European Union ministers early next week.
It includes an offer of a unilateral ceasefire and amnesty for the separatists - but only if they lay down their weapons.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen yesterday claimed that at least a few thousand more Russian troops were now on Ukraine's eastern border, calling it a "very regrettable step backwards".
In Kiev, Poroshenko said he would sign an association agreement with the European Union on June 27. It was then president Vicktor Yanukovych's sudden refusal to sign that pact and upgrade relations with Moscow that precipated his own ousting and Russia's annexing of Crimea.