(AGI) Rome, March 4 - Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, ison a diplomatic mission in Eastern Europe, which is being sweptby the Ukrainian conflict. In Kiev, Renzi met with UkrainianPresident Petro Poroshenko, assuring him of Western Europe's"respect for Ukraine's sovereignty and independence" andcalling for a return to peace. "Where there is no peace inEurope, the threat is not only for the populations involved,but for everybody. So it deserves our utmost attention," MrRenzi said. President Poroshenko replied: "I was pleased tohear that the European Union is united over the integrity ofUkraine. We have verified Italy's firm position on severaloccasions. I would like to thank Prime Minister Renzi". He wenton to request harsher sanctions "if the aggressions on Ukrainedo not stop". He insisted: "It is necessary to fully respectthe Minsk agreements. We need a constant and rigorous ceasefireand complete access to monitoring by the OSCE mission." The Italian prime minister's visit comes at a very delicatemoment - the peak of a seemingly insoluble crisis in theaftermath of Boris Nemtsov's murder. Indeed, one of Renzi'sfirst actions in Moscow could be to lay a rose on the bridgewhere the Russian liberal opposition leader was shot down, onlya short distance from the Kremlin. The ceasefire remainsvery shaky. During the last few hours, a Ukrainian soldier waskilled and another injured, announced Army spokesman VladislavSeleznyov, who accused pro-Russian rebels of having opened fireup to 47 times in the last 24 hours. Ukrainian troops andseparatist militants continue to blame each other for violatingthe ceasefire agreed in Minsk in mid-February. And that is notall: according to Kiev, the rebels hold 195 Ukrainian soldiershostage while another 340 of their troops are missing. Afiredamp explosion was reported in a coal mine in the Donbassregion, the area controlled by the separatists. The casualtytoll is not clear yet although rebels report 33 victims anddozens missing. Kiev, on its part, accuses the separatistsmanaging rescue operations of denying access to the site. In this setting, Pope Francis once again invited everybody topray for peace. U.S. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of theJoint Chiefs of Staff, for the first time said that it was timeto provide Ukrainian troops with weapons to enable them todefend themselves against pro-Russian separatists. "I think weshould absolutely consider lethal aid and it ought to be in thecontext of NATO allies," Dempsey told the Senate Armed ServicesCommittee on Wednesday. The option to arm Kiev has been onPresident Barack Obama's desk for months and has alreadyreceived a green light from the Republican-majority U.S.Congress. (AGI). .