KYIV - The Ukrainian military said a soldier was killed in shelling by pro-Russian separatists on Saturday morning in east Ukraine, where violence this week in a longrunning conflict has stirred concern it could be the triggger for Russian military action.

The Ukrainian militay said on its Facebook page that it had recorded 19 ceasefire violations by the separatists since the start of the day compared with 66 cases over the previous 24 hours.

Separatists opened fire on more than 20 settlements, using heavy artillery, which have been prohibited by Minsk agreements, the military said.

Incidents of shelling across the line dividing government forces and separatists increased sharply this week, in what the Ukrainian government called a provocation. It strongly denied suggestions by Russia that Kyiv could launch an offensive in eastern Ukraine.

The Minsk accords aim to end an 8-year-long conflict between the Ukrainian army and separatists in the east of the country.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets Editing by William Mallard and Frances Kerry) ((;))