Three pro-Russian militants and at least one other person were killed in a gunbattle near the volatile eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk early on Sunday, a local leader told journalists.
The early Sunday attack near the town of Slavyansk could not be immediately confirmed by Ukraine\’s Interior Ministry. Slavyansk is under the control of pro-Russian militants.
Reports of fatalities in the region have appeared before but have not been independently confirmed.
The self-declared mayor of Slavyansk, who supports the pro-Russian separatists in the city, said there had been a clash overnight and there were casualties, a Reuters Television team in the city said.
Separatist gunmen maintain a firm grip over a string of towns across Ukraine\’s industrial east despite an international deal signed last week demanding they vacate state buildings they are occupying.
The attack comes just hours after the Ukrainian government announced a pause in security operations to oust pro-Russian militants from buildings they have seized in recent days.
Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia linked the suspension to the Easter holiday, and said the pause would give European monitors more time to organize a special mission aimed at de-escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine.
Pro-Russian gunmen have seized Ukrainian government buildings in nearly a dozen eastern cities and say they will not surrender until the interim Ukraine government in Kyiv steps down.
In Moscow Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted that Russia had deployed additional security forces to the Ukrainian border in response to the instability in Ukraine. Russia has previously said its troops were on the border for routine exercises.
U.S. President Barack Obama has warned Russia that it could face additional sanctions if it fails to adhere to a new international deal on Ukraine reached Thursday in Geneva. That agreement, which followed talks between Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union, calls for all government buildings to be evacuated and for the militants to be disarmed. But it includes few concrete measures for ending the crisis, and many Western leaders are skeptical about Russia holding up its end of the bargain.
Ukraine has been in crisis since President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled in February.
Russia then annexed the Crimean peninsula – part of Ukraine but with a Russian-speaking majority – in a move that provoked international outrage.
The annexation followed a referendum in Crimea that backed a move to join the Russian Federation.
Pro-Russian activists then occupied buildings in several eastern Ukrainian cities, many calling on Moscow to support them.
Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US agreed during talks in Geneva on Thursday that illegal military groups in Ukraine must be dissolved, and that those occupying government premises must be disarmed and leave.