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Ukraine Forces Near Rebel City As Russia Escalates Border Exercises

A woman removes debris from a cafe that was destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian militants Aug. 5 in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, in the region of Donetsk.

A Ukrainian army tank sits in position in a sunflowers field Aug. 5 near the village of Maryinka, a suburb of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine are holding large military exercises along their shared border as the Ukrainian military claims to be closing in on rebel strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk, NPR's Karoun Demirjian reports from Moscow.

Government troops and separatists have been fighting for months for control of eastern Ukraine, Karoun says, and Ukrainian leaders say Russia has been supplying the separatists with weapons and strategic assistance — a charge Moscow denies.

Bloomberg reports that Russia's buildup in advance of its exercises has alarmed Ukrainian officials.

"Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March, has deployed 45,000 soldiers, 160 tanks and as many as 1,360 armored vehicles, a Ukrainian military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, told reporters in Kiev today. There are also 192 Russian warplanes and 137 military helicopters, as well as artillery systems and multiple rocket launchers, he said." 'All this is aimed at keeping the Ukrainian military on its toes,' Timothy Ash, an emerging-markets economist at Standard Bank Group Plc in London, said in an e-mail. 'While Russia continues to pursue such maneuvers, the Ukrainian military has to deploy troops along its border to counter the threat of a Russian invasion, and hence diverting scarce troops away from their ongoing offensive.' "

Further inside Ukraine, however, the government appeared to progressing in pushing back Russia-aligned rebels, entering their stronghold of Donetsk, The Associated Press reports. The AP says that one elderly civilian was killed by government shelling, and that a fifth of the city's 1 million population are believed to have fled.

Russia, meanwhile, took a number of measures on Tuesday according to Reuters,

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