Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine will hold a referendum on Sunday to seek greater autonomy, despite calls by Russian President Vladimir Putin to put it off.
The separatists met on Thursday to discuss Putin’s request the previous day. Putin wants to pave the way for talks with the Kiev authorities.
The separatist leader in the eastern city of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, told reporters after the meeting they had decided to go ahead with the referendum.
Ukraine’s military has been trying to evict armed pro-Russian separatists from public buildings they are occupying in Slavyansk and other eastern cities.
Civilians are among the many people on both sides that have been killed or wounded since fighting intensified on Friday last week.
Tensions are mounting in eastern Ukraine as 20 people have been killed ahead of a referendum scheduled for Sunday.
Pro-Russian groups plan to carry on with the referendum despite President Vladimir Putin’s call that it be postponed.
Ukraine’s interim government is stepping up its military offensive against pro-Russian separatists who continue to occupy local government buildings in eastern Ukraine.
On Friday, there was a gunfight in the southeastern city of Mariupol between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian members who attempted to attack and seize police headquarters.
Footage from the city showed black smoke rising from the streets.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said 1 Ukrainian soldier and around 20 pro-Russians died in the gun battle.
The interim government unveiled plans to hold a national dialogue next Wednesday in response to calls being made by Russia and Western nations. But pro-Russian groups say there is no room for negotiation.