The Ukrainian government has launched roundtable talks in an effort to de-escalate the crisis in the country's east.
The May 14 talks in Kyiv, which lasted 2 1/2 hours, were attended by government, parliamentary, and regional leaders, but notably no representative from the pro-Russian separatists waging an armed insurgency in the east of the country.
Opening the talks, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said that the government was ready for a dialogue with the regions, but will not bow to "blackmail" by the pro-Russian armed rebels.
"Those with weapons in hand who are waging a war against their own country and dictating the will of a neighboring country will answer before the law," Turchynov said.
The roundtable discussions were co-chaired by veteran German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger and are based on a road map brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE road map aims to halt fighting between government forces and pro-Russia separatists in the east and de-escalate tensions ahead of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk co-chaired the talks, the first in what is expected to be a series of roundtable talks.
He outlined measures to de-escalate tensions, including changing the constitution, de-centralizing power, and conferring additional powers on regional authorities.
Former Presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma, as well as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is a presidential candidate, are participating in the talks.
Serhiy Taruta, the Kyiv-appointed governor of the eastern Donetsk region, urged the government to show that it is treating all protesters equally by dismantling the protest camp on Kyiv's Independence Square that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Tymoshenko suggested that the next meeting should be held in Donetsk.
The talks come as pro-Russian separatists claim to have killed eight government soldiers in an overnight battle outside Slovyansk.
The Ukrainian government did not immediately comment on the rebel claims.
That report comes one day after separatist rebels killed seven Ukrainian soldiers in an ambush.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the talks should be as inclusive as possible, but she also said only those who reject violence should participate.
Russia has voiced support for the OSCE plan, but it has also accused Ukraine's pro-Western government of refusing "real dialogue" with the separatists.
It is also demanding that Kyiv halt its military operation in the east if the pro-Russian rebels are to comply with the peace initiative.
WATCH: Residents describe fighting near the eastern town of Kramatorsk.
Moscow also says Kyiv must begin talks with rebel representatives before the May 25 presidential election.
Moscow has previously said the presidential election would be illegitimate.
However, Sergei Naryshkin -- the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin -- on May 14 said it was better to hold the election than to cancel it.
Naryshkin said in a television interview that the vote's legitimacy would be reduced because of the ongoing military operation. But he said not holding the election would create an even worse situation, and "therefore you need to choose the lesser of two evils."
With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and UNIAN