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Ukraine Military protect roads in Kharkiv region and OSCE host talks in Kharkiv with the acting President and Leaders of Ukraine

Whilst Ukrainian army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the road near the eastern city of Izyum, in the Kharkiv region, on May 16, 2014. The United Nations warned on May 16 of an "alarming deterioration" of human rights in eastern parts of Ukraine, where an armed insurgency by pro-Russian separatists is threatening a presidential election just over a week away. In a new report, the UN's rights chief catalogued a litany of "targeted killings, torture and beatings, abductions, intimidation and some cases of sexual harassment" which it said was carried out by anti-government groups .

Senior Ukrainian officials on Saturday held a second session of national round-table talks aimed at ending the country’s political crisis, this time in the eastern city of Kharkiv, in the region that has been besieged by pro-Russian separatist violence.

The second round of talks aimed at resolving Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis was conducted at the Kharkiv a Palace Hotel on Saturday 17th May, one week ahead of the Presidential election, in Ukraine's second most important and biggest city, Kharkiv. 

The talks were an initiative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It follows an initial meeting in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Wednesday. Saturday's talks were chaired by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The country’s acting president and two past presidents were also there, along with Ukrainian civil groups. But there was no place at the table for representatives of separatists in Donetsk and other eastern Ukraine regions.

The Ukrainian leaders gathered for their second set of national unity talks in Kharkiv on Saturday, much closer to the country's more restless regions than last week's opening round in Kyiv. German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger moderated the discussions, with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and former presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma among those in attendance.

"We, as the Ukrainian government, are more interested than most in [ensuring] that peace and calm return to this country," Yatsenyuk said at the start of the talks. Ischinger, meanwhile, issued a simple appeal: "Ukrainians, please use words and not weapons," the chair of the annual Munich Security Conference, formerly a close ally of longstanding German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Insurgents from the neighboring regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were not invited, with authorities in Kyiv saying they will not deal with "terrorists." The pro-Russian militants, in turn, have said they will only negotiate on the withdrawal of Ukrainian government troops, and the recognition of their independence.
Both regions claimed overwhelming support for independence in May 11 public votes not recognized by Ukraine, the EU or US.
Prior to the talks, the latest gun battle between government troops and separatist fighters took place near a border crossing with Russia. According to Ukrainian border forces, separatists freed the self-declared governor of Luhansk region, Valery Bolotov, after he was taken into custody seeking to return to Ukraine from Russia. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties in the skirmish. 
State media in Ukraine on Saturday reported that the election commission was worried that "the situation is worsening" in the east of the country ahead of planned presidential polls on May 25. The fighting between Ukraine's "anti-terror" troops and the separatists, especially in Donetsk and Luhansk, could make the election impossible to carry out. The commission said that preparations towards the vote had not even begun in around a dozen voting districts there. 

The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement on Saturday saying it doubted the elections' success, given Ukraine's security situation.

"Can elections held amid the thunder of guns really meet the democratic norms of the electoral process?" the ministry asked in a statement, calling on Kyiv to "immediately end military operations" in the country's southeast. Saturday's talks were originally set to be held in Donetsk itself. But just one day before the talks the Ukrainian officials announced a change of venue to Kharkiv city, without explanation. It comes after Donetsk declared itself a republic 5 days ago. Donetsk has been the scene of ongoing clashes between separatist groups and government forces. Kharkiv is now seen as a strong pro-Ukraine supporting city , with the whole city being filled with national flags and logos. 

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