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Ukraine seeks Putin help to save crumbling truce

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Ukraine’s new Western-backed leader sought urgent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday after rebels shot down an army helicopter despite ceasefire orders from their own commander to observe a fragile truce.

The death of nine servicemen outside the pro-Russian stronghold city of Slavyansk and loss of two other soldiers in attacks by separatist gunmen prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to threaten to unleash a powerful new military campaign in the industrial east.

A new wave of shelling being launched by Ukrainian forces who have effectively surrounded the devastated city of nearly 120,000 on Wednesday morning.

Their push was met with extended rounds of anti-aircraft and heavy machinegun fire that echoed through deserted city streets.

“This is the calm before the storm that begins once the ceasefire ends,” said a 42-year-old rebel who is simply known to his unit as “Oleksandr the Soldier”.

Poroshenko’s threat of retaliation dealt a crushing blow to budding hopes of the sides mediating an end to 11 weeks of fighting that has killed more than 435 people and brought the ex-Soviet nation to the brink of collapse.

Kiev’s temporary ceasefire was picked up by separatist commanders on Monday but was due to expire on Friday morning after just one round of inconclusive and indirect talks.

Putin urged both sides to extend the truce and further asked parliament to revoke his March 1 authorisation to invade his western neighbour in a self-proclaimed bid to “protect” ethnic Russians from the nationalists now in power in Kiev.