Europe’s last-minute effort to avert a breakup of Ukraine by arranging talks between Kiev and Russian-speaking separatists may be derailed in the face of intensifying violence in the country’s eastern regions.

A day after Donetsk and Luhansk declared their independence from Ukraine following an overwhelming vote for “sovereignty” on Sunday, several Ukrainian servicemen were killed in fighting with separatists in Donetsk region.

Seven soldiers were killed and eight wounded in a rebel ambush between Kramatorsk and Slaviansk on Tuesday, the Ukrainian Security Service said. The UNIAN news agency said up to 20 soldiers were injured in the ambush. Separatists said they had destroyed two Ukrainian armoured vehicles.

In another incident, Valeri Bolotov, governor of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, was shot and wounded by a sniper in an apparent assassination attempt when he was riding in a car to a meeting on Monday, said a spokesman for Fruhansk self-defence forces.

The injury was not life-threatening, the spokesman told reporters in Luhansk.

The attack came as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Kiev to help arrange round-table talks between Kiev and separatists under a peace plan proposed by Swiss President Didier Burkhalter in his capacity as Chairperson-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Four-point roadmap

The OSCE four-point roadmap calls on all sides in the Ukraine conflict to refrain from violence and urges disarmament of irregulars and amnesty, national dialogue on decentralisation and elections.

Kiev on Tuesday announced holding an “all-Ukraine round table of national unity” on Wednesday. However, Ukrainian leaders made it clear that separatists would not be invited.

“We are ready to talk to all those who pursue legitimate political goals, who are prepared to advance them by legal means and who have no blood on their hands,” Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov and Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in a joint statement.

Mr. Turchynov said that Kiev would continue its “anti-terrorist operation” to suppress the rebellion in the east.

Moscow said that in order to stop Ukraine’s “sliding to catastrophe” Kiev must comply with the “key” provisions of the OSCE roadmap — call off its “punitive” campaign in the southeast, pull back its military and free all political prisoners.

“If Kiev takes these steps, we expect the leaders of self-defence in Donetsk and Luhansk to respond in an adequate way,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ukraine signed a deal with the EU on Tuesday for 1 billion euro ($1.37 billion) aid for Kiev’s government as well as for assistance to help build Ukrainian institutions.

Moscow, for its part, asked Ukraine to pay in advance for Russian natural gas or face a supplies cutoff.

Russian gas-export monopoly Gazprom informed Ukraine it will receive gas in June only if it pays in advance by June 2. The Russian company switched to pre-payment after Ukraine ran up a debt of $3.5 billion for delivered fuel.

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