Two Ukrainian soldiers have been killed during fresh clashes with pro-Russia forces in the restive eastern part of the country amid rising tensions between Kiev and Moscow over the latter’s military build-up on the border.
According to Ukrainian armed forces, a soldier was killed on Saturday when pro-Russia forces opened fire with small arms, while another "received a gunshot bullet wound incompatible with life" on Monday.
In recent weeks, tensions have mounted between Moscow and Kiev amid a spike in violence in the Russian-speaking eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces have fought a conflict that has killed 14,000 people since 2014.
Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis by supporting the militants with weapons and troops, a charge Moscow strongly denies.
The Kremlin has time and again stressed the necessity of seeking a political solution to the deadly conflict.
The recent clashes come as Ukraine has accused Russia of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders as well as on the Crimean Peninsula.
On Monday, Yulia Mendel, press Secretary of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia has 41,000 troops on Ukraine's eastern border and 42,000 soldiers on the Crimean peninsula.
Mendel also said that Zelensky had sent a query to the Kremlin in late March requesting talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the escalating conflict, but was yet to receive an answer.
"We hope that President Vladimir Putin does not refuse dialogue," Mendel said.
However, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied that Moscow had received a request for talks.
"I am not aware of any such enquiries in recent days," he said.
Ukraine and the US-led NATO have already expressed their concern over what they describe as a large Russian military build-up across the Rostov region, which borders Ukraine’s breakaway regions.
Moscow, in response, says it is always mindful of its own security, stressing that Russia does not intend to threaten anyone.
On Saturday, Peskov also raised the alarm about the resumption of an all-out conflict in Ukraine’s east and expressed Russia’s determination to prevent Kiev from using force to try to retake the separatist-controlled region of Donbas.
Last week, Russian and American diplomats held bilateral talks in a bid to diffuse simmering tensions, which Moscow has warned could spell disaster for the region.
Relations between Moscow and Kiev further deteriorated when the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum in 2014. More than 90 percent of the participants in the referendum voted in favor of unification.
Later in 2015, the two sides signed a ceasefire deal in the Belarus capital, Minsk, with French and German support. Nonetheless, both parties have on numerous occasions accused one another of violating the ceasefire.