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Report of five killed in east Ukraine clash

Russian state television says the people were killed when gunmen attacked a pro-Russian checkpoint.

Pro-Russian protesters talk to each other at a barricade in front of the building of the city police department in Slavyansk on 19 April. Picture: AFP.

KIEV -Russian state television reported on Sunday that five people were killed when gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian separatists near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk.

The state-run Rossiya 24 news station, citing its correspondent in Slaviansk, said three of the dead were with the pro-Russian separatists who control Slaviansk, and the other two were from the group that attacked their checkpoint.

Meanwhile, a senior mediator from Europe's OSCE security body is due to start negotiating the surrender of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine today, although hopes for a rapid end to the crisis are limited.

Gunmen occupying public buildings in Donetsk and other Russian-speaking border towns refused to recognise an accord in Geneva on Thursday by which Russia, Ukraine and Kiev's US and EU allies agreed that the OSCE should oversee the disarmament of militants and the evacuation of occupied facilities and streets.

The coming days may determine whether unrest following the overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president can be contained.

Russia, which annexed Crimea last month in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, denies directing the separatists or planning to invade. Western powers threaten more economic sanctions if Moscow does not persuade the militants to give up.

In Donetsk, separatist leaders renewed calls for a referendum that could see Ukraine's industrial heartland annexed by Russia.

A poll by an institute in Kiev, however, suggested a majority did not favour rule from Moscow, despite widespread suspicion among Russian speakers of the new leadership in Kiev.

Ukraine's government, short of effective forces, has shown little sign of trying to recapture the dozen or so town halls, police stations and other sites seized over the past two weeks, despite proclaiming the launch of an "anti-terrorist operation".