Ukraine: armed confrontations
Ukraine: armed confrontations Reuters

Germany is advising its citizens to leave Ukraine's troubled east and south, citing increasing tension in the region and risks of being detained by separatists.

The Foreign Ministry made the recommendation in updated travel advice on its website Tuesday. It said recent developments suggest that "media representatives face a particular danger of being held or arrested by separatist forces."

Four Germans were among a team of European military observers held for more than a week by insurgents in the separatist stronghold of Slovyansk until their release on Saturday.

Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned that Ukraine is close to war, in interviews published in four European newspapers on Tuesday.

"The bloody pictures from Odessa have shown us that we are just a few steps away from a military confrontation," Steinmeier told El Pais, Le Monde, La Repubblica and Gazeta Wyborcza. He added that the conflict had taken on an intensity "that a short time ago we would not have considered possible".

Steinmeier's ministry also warned Germans on Tuesday against travelling to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March, and reiterated an earlier advisory to avoid eastern areas.

"It is urgently advised to avoid travelling to Crimea," the Foreign Ministry wrote on its website. "In the German government's view, Crimea belongs to Ukraine but in actuality it is controlled by Russia. Due to the current situation German citizens can no longer be guaranteed consular services."

The ministry added that it was advising against any travelling to eastern and southern Ukraine. It also urged German citizens to leave those regions and said journalists were particularly endangered.

"The situation in the east and south of Ukraine is extremely tense at the moment," it said. "There are an increased number of armed occupations of state buildings .... there have been incidents of foreigners being held.

Dozens of people died in the Ukrainian city of Odessa last week when pro-Russian militants clashed with their opponents, and Kiev forces are fighting separatists who have seized control of towns in the east of the country.

Ukrainian security forces and antigovernment rebels clashed on the edges of the rebel-controlled Slovyansk on Monday as the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said roadblocks were being set up around Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, because of fears of disturbances or violence during an emotionally charged holiday later in the week.

As many as 10 rebels and four soldiers were killed in the fighting, according to the official accounts from both sides, along with a woman who was shot while standing on an apartment balcony during a bloody firefight along the highway to Slovyansk’s east.