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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KIEV/MINSK (BosNewsLife)-- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday, February 12, that a ceasefire had been agreed in eastern Ukraine, starting February 15.
Putin spoke after he and leaders of France, Germany, and Ukraine held marathon talks in Minsk aimed at ending fighting in Ukraine that has killed more than 5,000 people.
Officials said they would sign a joint declaration which would recognize Ukraine's territorial integrity and a ceasefire. Yet fighting raged in eastern Ukraine, killing as many as 49 people in the hours leading up to the make-or-break meeting.
There was a brief handshake between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko, but little warmth, as they began marathon meeting with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a palace in Minsk.
Hours later, officials said that everybody was yawning but that they were still arguing and close to an agreement on how to end the war between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists.
Russia has been accused of arming and reinforcing the pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine - a claim it denies.
Leaders were briefly interrupting their talks, but later returned. Diplomats said an agreement was still expected to be signed after more than 15 hours of talks.
It would reportedly recognize Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty as well as securing a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and creating a demilitarised zone.
However on the ground in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions fighting continued, killing dozens of people.
Ukraine's army said Wednesday at least 19 of its soldiers were killed in pro-Russian separatist assaults near the railway town of Debaltseve, in what some of the worst losses it reported in nine months of war.
The surge in fighting in the 24 hours before the summit began also included a rocket attack that killed 17 people in government-held territory on Tuesday.
Observers said the clashed were intended to force Ukraine to accept a deal recognising the rebel advance.
There was a sense of urgency among the French, German, Russian and Ukrainian leaders to sign an agreement: Washington considers supplying what it calls lethal defensive weapons to Ukrainian government forces, a move European officials fear could lead to a proxy war between Cold War rivals Russia and the United States.
Ukrainian President Poroshenko was to brief a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday.
In the words of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini the talks in Minsk "would be a turning point, for good, or bad."
(BosNewsLife's NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the church and/or compassionate professionals).
(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004).
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