The News Minute | June 27, 2014 | 22.02 pm IST
Brussels/London/Kiev: European Union (EU) leaders Friday set June 30 as the deadline for steps taken by relevant parties to improve the situation and contribute to a lasting ceasefire in Ukraine as the east European country joined the Western bloc.
A European Council (EC) statement issued in Brussels Friday said the steps include agreeing on a verification mechanism for the ceasefire and for the effective control of the border, Xinhua reported.
Also among the steps expected by the EU leaders are the return to the Ukrainian authorities of three border checkpoints, release of hostages, including all the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers as well as negotiations for the implementation of the peace plan proposed by the Ukrainian president.
The EU warned of "further restrictive measures" on the basis of assessment of the situation, noting that the member states have been preparing such sanctions from March so that they can be put into effect "without delay."
According to the statement, the heads of state and government of the EU countries "regret" that the current ceasefire has not led to the full cessation of "military hostilities."
They urged Russia to "actively use its influence over the illegally armed groups and to stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border".
The EU leaders reaffirmed their support to the peace plan announced by Ukraine and committed to support the economic stabilisation process in the country.
A high level donor coordination meeting on Ukraine will be held in Brussels July 8, the European Council statement said.
Earlier Friday, Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, signed partnership agreements with the European Union (EU) in a move strongly opposed by Russia.
The agreement would benefit the three countries both politically and economically and would allow them to work more closely with the West, BBC reported.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the signing of the agreement as Ukraine's most historic day since independence in 1991, and called it a "symbol of faith and unbreakable will".
EC President Herman van Rompuy described it as a "great day for Europe".
Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the deal under pressure from Russia and the protests that followed led to his overthrow in February.
Meanwhile, according to a report from Kiev, four international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), taken captive in Ukraine a month ago, have been released, the Vienna-based organisation confirmed Friday.
According to the OSCE, the group of monitors, kidnapped in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, was released unharmed late Thursday. However, the OSCE said another group that went missing in the neighbouring Lugansk region May 29 is yet to be freed, Xinhua reported.
The OSCE said its monitors were overseeing the situation in Ukraine's restive regions, though the number of observers was reduced due to the unstable security situation.
Meanwhile, five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in overnight attacks on checkpoints in the Donetsk region despite a ceasefire which expires Friday.
"The attacks and shootings on Ukrainian armed forces positions are continuing. Throughout the past 24 hours, the terrorists committed assaults against 11 Ukrainian checkpoints," Andriy Lysenko, spokesman of the National Defence and Security Council, told reporters.
According to him, the Ukrainian military had repulsed all the attacks on its positions, which are regarded as gateways to the four towns of Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, Artemovsk and Kryva Luka.
At least 150 government soldiers and scores of insurgents had been killed since the violent confrontation erupted in eastern Ukraine in April.
President Petro Poroshenko announced a unilateral ceasefire by the government forces last Friday, and two days later the insurgents agreed to observe the truce.
However, the insurgents had allegedly continued their attacks on the Ukrainian troops during the week-long ceasefire, killing at least 20.