World

Ukrainian army said to be on advance in eastern Ukraine

  • Ukrainian government troops sit in the back of pick-up trucks as they pass a checkpoint near the town of Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. The intense fighting, which the U.N. says has killed more than 5,300 people since April, comes ahead of a crucial summit including Western leaders on Wednesday as well as peace talks later Tuesday. The volunteer Azov battalion said on social media on Tuesday that it captured several villages northeast of the strategic port of Mariupol, pushing the rebels closer to the border with Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

    Ukrainian government troops sit in the back of pick-up trucks as they pass a checkpoint near the town of Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. The intense fighting, which the U.N. says has killed more than 5,300 people since April, comes ahead of a crucial summit including Western leaders on Wednesday as well as peace talks later Tuesday. The volunteer Azov battalion said on social media on Tuesday that it captured several villages northeast of the strategic port of Mariupol, pushing the rebels closer to the border with Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)  (The Associated Press)

  • Maria, mother of military officer Nadezhda Savchenko sits in a court room in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko is awaiting trial in a Russian prison after she was captured by Russia-backed rebels during fighting in eastern Ukraine. Savchenko's lawyers challenged the judge on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

    Maria, mother of military officer Nadezhda Savchenko sits in a court room in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko is awaiting trial in a Russian prison after she was captured by Russia-backed rebels during fighting in eastern Ukraine. Savchenko's lawyers challenged the judge on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this picture taken, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, Ruslan Banin, 18 years old, walks in his neighborhood  in Donetsk, Ukraine. Day and night, mortars and rockets rain down on the rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine _ mainly in the city’s outlying districts, where the poorest people live.  (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

    In this picture taken, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, Ruslan Banin, 18 years old, walks in his neighborhood in Donetsk, Ukraine. Day and night, mortars and rockets rain down on the rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine _ mainly in the city’s outlying districts, where the poorest people live. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)  (The Associated Press)

Government forces are reporting gains in rebel-held eastern Ukraine as the parties in the conflict gear up for talks.

Fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 5,300 people since April, according to the U.N.

The volunteer Azov battalion said on social media on Tuesday that it captured several villages north-east of the strategic port of Mariupol, pushing the rebels closer to the border with Russia.

Rebels reported advances, too. Their military spokesman Eduard Basurin said late Monday that they have surrounded the railway hub of Debaltseve, the focus of fierce fighting in the past weeks, cutting it off from a major highway.

Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are meeting for long-anticipated talks later on Tuesday.