The fighting rages in eastern Ukraine ahead of the agreed 15 February ceasefire deadline, which comes into effect at midnight (22:00 GMT).

The town of Debaltseve is reported to be under heavy bombardment by Russia-backed rebels, which moved heavy artillery into the area while the Mink peace talks were ongoing.

The UN Mission to Ukraine tweeted pictures that it claims show Russian military equipment such as rocket launchers, “not separatist systems” surrounding Debaltseve.

Clashes are also reported at the port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine.

US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, said that Russian units were preparing large shipments of supplies to the rebels in the hours leading up to the ceasefire deadline.

US State Department has accused Russia of breaching the “spirit” of the Minsk agreement before the ceasefire has even come into effect. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russia had deployed “a large amount of artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems” as well as an air defence system at Debaltseve, which “is clearly not in the spirit of this week’s agreement”.

Meanwhile, Russian media reports that leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Alexander Zakharchenko, said that the Minsk ceasefire agreement does not apply to Debaltseve.

Russia continues to deny sending troops and weapons to support the separatists, despite social media evidence of Russian soldiers active within Ukraine and Russian military equipment being used by the rebels against Ukrainian forces.

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