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Ukrainian troops edge closer to city held by pro-Russian separatist rebels

APTOPIX Russia Ukraine-1.jpg

Ukrainian soldiers, who fled the conflict territory, spend their time at a tent camp as the sun sets over the scene near the Russia-Ukraine border just outside the village of Gukovo, Rostov-on-Don region, Southern Russia, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. A Russian border security official said Monday that more than 400 Ukrainian soldiers have crossed into Russia. The Russian official said the soldiers deserted the Kiev government and the Russian side opened a safe corridor. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (The Associated Press)

Ukrainian troops have taken control of a key checkpoint on the western edge of Donetsk, the biggest city in the rebellious east, and are making gradual advances to quash pro-Russian separatist forces.

An Associated Press reporter saw a tank carrying the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag Tuesday morning in the suburb of Marinka, which lies on a key road into Donetsk. Rebel combatants could still be seen in sniper positions in a nearby area closer to the city center.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation in the east, Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky, said further fighting was expected to ensure full control over Marinka.

Donetsk, a city of 1 million people, has largely been spared of fighting earlier during the rebellion that erupted in April but come under shelling in recent weeks.