The Russian and Ukrainian presidents agreed yesterday to work on extending a ceasefire between Kiev and pro-Kremlin militias, just hours before the current truce expired, France said.
In a four-way teleconference call that also included the French and German leaders, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko agreed to work on "the adoption of an agreement on a bilateral ceasefire between Ukrainian authorities and separatists," the French presidency said.
The deadline for the current shaky ceasefire in violence-hit eastern Ukraine was due to run out at 2am this morning, with no end to weeks of fighting in sight.
Sporadic fighting still flared yesterday despite the ceasefire. Shelling killed at least two people in the rebel-held city of Slavyansk in the eastern region of Donetsk. Residents saying the army appeared to start shelling after rebels opened fire.
France and Germany have already reiterated a warning from the European Union that it could slap more sanctions on Moscow if Putin does not explicitly pressure pro-Kremlin rebels to stop fighting.
In its statement, the French presidency said the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine would also talk on the phone later yesterday.
Poroshenko had urged Putin on Sunday to strengthen Russian control over its borders to prevent militants and arms entering Ukraine after violence repeatedly flared in the region.
A ceasefire had initially been declared by Poroshenko on June 20 to allow for peace talks with the pro-Russian rebels.
Putin again urged an extension of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and the setting up of a control mechanism to monitor the truce with the participation of the OSCE security body, the Kremlin said in a separate statement after the talks.
"The leaders spoke in favour of convening a third round of consultations between Kiev and southeastern regions as soon as possible," it added
Moves to extend the ceasefire came as it emerged that Ukrainian citizens had launched a crowdfunding initiative to supply Kiev's beleaguered and badly equipped troops with a new drone.
It will be used for reconnaissance in the skies above rebel Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and along the border with Russia.
The organisers had originally hoped to buy a state-of-the-art Israeli drone - for US$165,000 - or a cheaper American one costing US$120,000. In the end, however, they managed to build the drone for just US$35,000.
Kiev says there is overwhelming evidence the Kremlin has supplied heavy weapons to the rebels. Moscow denies this.
"If we get 20 drones we will definitely ensure the security of our border," said David Arakhania, an IT executive who founded the crowdfunding site.
Arakhania said he felt compelled to do something after seeing Ukrainian soldiers serving on the new front line with Crimea. Russian troops overran the Black Sea peninsula in February.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and The Guardian