Three Ukrainian soldiers killed in separatist east: military

Kiev (AFP) - Three Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and another injured in fresh clashes between pro-Russian rebels and government forces in the country's separatist east, the military said Sunday.

"As a result of fighting, three Ukrainian soldiers have unfortunately been killed over the past 24 hours," Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said, adding that another soldier had suffered serious injuries.

One of the soldiers came under fire in the village of Talakivka, some 80 kilometres south of Donetsk, the pro-Russian rebels' de facto capital, Motuzyanyk said.

The two other servicemen were killed in a mine explosion in the village of Luganske, which lies about 50 kilometres northeast of Donetsk.

Motuzyanyk also accused pro-Russian rebels of using weapons banned by Minsk agreements, a series of truce agreement that have helped reduce violence in the region, although sporadic clashes persist.

An unnamed rebel source quoted Sunday by the separatists' news agency accused Ukrainian troops of firing 130 mortars and shells overnight.

An uptick of violence late last month resulted in the deaths of seven Ukrainian servicemen in a 24-hour period, the highest casualty toll in a single day this year.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of stirring up the unrest and sending soldiers and equipment across the border, claims Moscow has repeatedly denied.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said in April it could take years to end the conflict, which has claimed nearly 9,400 lives since it erupted in April 2014.