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Fighting in Luhansk as Ukraine talks peace in Minsk

Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the Luhansk airport and a nearby village after coming under artillery fire. Fresh talks between Russian and Ukranian representatives are underway in Minsk.

On Monday, Ukraine confirmed that troops had retreated from the Luhansk airport and the nearby village of Georgiyivka after encountering artillery fire.

"Ukrainian soldiers received an order and made an organized retreat from the Luhansk airport and Georgiyivka village," said Andriy Lysenko, Kyiv's security spokesman. "Judging by the precision of the strikes, professional artillery men of the Russian armed forces are the ones firing."

The Luhansk airport and Georgiyivka are located several kilometers south of a separatist stronghold on the border with Russia.

In an earlier statement, Lysenko told reported that forces had been fighting a Russian tank battalion in a bid to hold on to the Luhansk airport, adding that seven Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in the last 24 hours.

Speaking from the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Ukrainian army "is directly targeting its fire on residential areas" and "unfortunately many countries, including in Europe, prefer not to notice that."

'Immediate ceasefire'

Earlier Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had said that an "immediate ceasefire" between the government and separatists in Ukraine "without conditions" must the top priority at talks currently under way in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

During a meeting with students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Lavrov added that Ukrainian forces "must leave positions from which they can harm the civilian population."

Almost 2,600 people have died in the conflict since April, when separatists began battling government forces shortly after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March.

'Common sense'

On Monday, Putin said that he hoped the EU would show "common sense" to avoid mutually detrimental sanctions. On Saturday, the European Union's 28 heads of state had provided

Putin with a one-week ultimatum to curb Russia's support for separatists

. Asset freezes and

travel bans have already been imposed

on several senior Russian officials and separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine.

Australia has also expanded its financial sanctions and travel bans, which were introduced in March. On Monday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused Russia of "brazenly" trying to break eastern Ukraine away from the rest of the country, adding that the country "risks becoming an international pariah."

As well as banning any new arms trade, the sanctions will also prohibit Russian state-owned banks from accessing Australia's capital markets, and ban trade in Russia's oil and gas industry and in Crimea.

ksb/mkg (Reuters, AFP)

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