Ukraine has appealed to the West to implement tougher sanctions against Moscow as the battle for Debaltseve continues. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has suggested that Ukrainian forces lay down their arms.
Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia rebels have continued their bitter fight for control of the strategic hub of Debaltseve, further impeding the implementation of the ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk last week.
Rebels claim they have occupied 80 percent of Debaltseve. Separatist spokesman Eduard Basurin said Tuesday that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered, although there was no confirmation from Kyiv. The Ukrainian army, however, did acknowledge that the situation was "extremely complicated."
"Several groups of the enemy have burst into the city," said Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko, adding that his troops would begin their withdrawal as soon as attacks ceased.
Speaking in Budapest on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin also suggested that Ukrainian forces lay down their arms.
"I hope that the Ukrainian authorities are not going to prevent the Ukrainian soldiers from laying down their weapons," he said in a press conference following talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding civilian casualties in the area around Debaltseve. "It is unclear how many civilians are still there… We believe there may be a few thousand hiding in cellars, struggling to get food, water and other basic necessities," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters.
'Tougher action' against Russia
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko condemned the Debaltseve fighting in a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, saying the assault on the railway hub was a "cynical attack" on the truce brokered last week by Germany and France in Minsk.
Poroshenko called for the European Union and the international community to take a "tough reaction against the treacherous actions of the rebels and Russia." Earlier on Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution upholding the Minsk peace deal and calling for an end to hostilities.
Western countries have condemned Moscow's stance on Debaltseve and the ceasefire, with the United States blaming the war on "separatist forces acting in concert with Russian forces."
"If Russia continues to violate the Minsk agreements, including the most recent agreement signed on February 12, the costs to Russia will rise," US Vice President Joe Biden said in a phone call with Poroshenko.
Fresh sanctions by Canada, meanwhile, have targeted Russian oil giant Rosneft and hit 37 Russian and Ukrainian individuals with travel bans. "Our government remains steadfast in its commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine in the face of the Putin regime's ongoing military aggression, which has already cost the lives of more than 5,300 people," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.
Western countries have accused Russia of backing rebels in eastern Ukraine and supplying them with arms - a charge which Moscow denies. The conflict was sparked after Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula last March.