40 Killed in E. Ukraine

40 Killed in E. Ukraine 40 Killed in E. Ukraine

At least 40 people have been reported killed as fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels rages on in the east of the country.

Ukrainian officials say 15 soldiers and 12 civilians died on Saturday. The rebels report 13 casualties, BBC said in a report.

The separatists also claim to have seized the town of Vuhlehirsk and surrounded the key hub of Debaltseve, but the Ukrainian military denies this. Meanwhile, urgent truce talks began in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Representatives of Ukraine and Russia, as well as rebel envoys and members the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) are taking part in the meeting.

They are due to discuss proposals for an immediate ceasefire, a pullout of heavy weapons from the line of contact and a prisoner exchange. The recent heavy fighting has left a September ceasefire - also agreed in Minsk - in tatters. The latest report on the situation in the conflict zone stood in stark contrast to the concept of a ceasefire.

On Saturday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak told reporters that "15 soldiers were killed and another 30 injured" during the fighting on the "whole line of contact" on Friday and Saturday. He also admitted that Debaltseve was now "partially controlled" by the rebels. Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Abroskin, head of the Ukrainian interior ministry in the Donetsk region, said 12 people were killed by rebel shelling in the town.

In the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said 13 people - including civilians - were killed in the past 24 hours in the areas held by the separatists.

He also claimed that some 8,000 Ukrainian troops were now surrounded in and around Debaltseve. Ukrainian officials earlier denied the claim.