Peace talks on Ukraine collapsed on Saturday after just over four hours with no tangible progress towards a new ceasefire but with Ukraine's representative and separatist envoys angrily accusing each other of sabotaging the meeting.
Ukraine's representative, former president Leonid Kuchma, left the talks in Minsk, Belarus, telling Interfax news agency that separatist officials had undermined the meeting by making ultimatums and refusing "to discuss a plan of measures for a quick ceasefire and a pull-back of heavy weapons".
Denis Pushilin, one of the separatist officials, told the Russian news agency RIA that they were ready for dialogue "but not ready for ultimatums from Kiev while shelling by their forces is going on in the background of towns in the Donbass (industrialised eastern Ukraine)".
The meeting of the "contact group", which also involves a Russian envoy and an official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, took place in the Belarussian capital even as fighting between Kiev's forces and the Russian-backed rebels raged on in Ukraine's east, claiming more civilian and military lives.
The outcome dashed hopes that a new ceasefire could be put together soon to stem nine months of conflict pitting Ukrainian government forces against Russian-backed separatists who have declared "people's republics" in eastern Ukraine.
Shortly before the Minsk talks broke up, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russia's Vladimir Putin in a three-way phone call had expressed the hope the meeting would at least produce a ceasefire agreement.
Both sides have accused each other of deadly artillery and mortar strikes on civilian targets in the past two weeks, including on a cultural centre in the main regional city of Donetsk on Friday that killed at least five people waiting for humanitarian hand-outs.
Heavy shelling continued on Saturday in Ukraine's eastern regions as the separatists sought to tighten a circle around government forces clinging on to control of the strategic rail and road junction of Debaltseve.
Ukraine’s top general is contradicting allegations by the Obama Administration and by his own Ukrainian Government, by saying that no Russian troops are fighting against the Ukrainian Government’s forces in the formerly Ukrainian, but now separatist, area, where the Ukrainian civil war is being waged.