Fierce battles on Ukraine's porous eastern border left 15 government troops dead as fears of a possible Russian invasion swirled yesterday despite Nato urging Moscow to withdraw its troops along the frontier.
International tensions also rose as Western countries slammed a Russian food embargo imposed as revenge for sanctions slapped on Moscow over its backing for insurgents in Ukraine.
The renewed violence came after Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Moscow to "pull back from the brink" and as Western countries warned that Russia could be preparing to send troops across the border in the guise of a humanitarian mission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday met with his national security council to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine, especially the "massive humanitarian catastrophe" in the region.Fears have mounted that Russia could be preparing to send the troops into Ukraine under the pretext of a humanitarian mission.
Ukraine's military said seven soldiers and eight border guards were killed over the past 24 hours as a bloody three-day battle with pro-Russian rebels forced several government units to retreat from the border in the southeast of the war-torn Lugansk region. Clashes were also reported in Donetsk.
Over 1,300 people have been killed and 285,000 forced to flee their homes over four months of what the Red Cross has designated a civil war in eastern Ukraine.
Local authorities have warned of an impending humanitarian disaster, as some areas have been left without power or water for days, and fuel and food were running short.
Away from the fighting, Moscow also drew condemnation for its decision to block most food imports from countries which have placed sanctions on Russia over the crisis.
In a separate set of punitive measures, Ukrainian announced a new sanctions list targeting 65 mainly Russian companies and 172 individuals accused of backing the separatists. Australian yesterday warned that Canberra was "working towards stronger sanctions".