Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Ukraine's decision to send armed forces into eastern Ukraine instead of trying to establish a dialogue with the Russian-speaking population there was a "grave crime."

In a televised call-in with the nation, Putin said crisis talks being held in Geneva were "very important" and urged the government in Kiev to sit down to talks with Russian-speaking communities in the east of the country.

He said claims that Russian forces were present in east Ukraine were "rubbish".

Escalation in tensions were apparent as earlier on Thursday Ukraine's interior minister said that three pro-Russian separatists were killed in shooting that broke out overnight in the town of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

"According to preliminary data, three attackers were killed, 13 wounded and 63 detained," Arsen Avakov said in a post on Facebook.


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