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Trucks forming part of an aid convoy destined for Ukraine travel on a road to the border control point in the Russian town of Donetsk, in the Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. Fighting in Ukraine has escalated since the insurgency arose in April, with government troops steadily taking back rebel-held territory in the east. / Pavel Golovkin, AP

Hundreds of trucks packed with badly needed humanitarian aid were poised Sunday to cross into war-torn areas of Eastern Ukraine, while the Kiev government claimed major advances in its battle against insurgents.

More than 200 Russian trucks have been parked at the border amid concerns from Ukrainian military authorities that the convoy is a ruse to smuggle arms to the ethnic-Russian insurgents. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been tasked with overseeing distribution of the grain, baby food, medical supplies, generators and other essentials.

"The Ukrainians should be checking the contents of the first group of 16 trucks now," Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani told USA TODAY late Sunday. "We are still waiting for security guarantees before we go ahead."

Rebels claim they are getting military hardware from Russia, an assertion that hasn't helped the effort to get the Russian humanitarian aid into the region. The leader of the self-proclaimed rebel government in the Donetsk region, Alexander Zakharchenko, said in a video posted online this weekend that new military equipment was on its way from Russia.

Zakharchenko said the shipment included tanks and more than 1,000 fighters trained in Russia.

Donetsk, the main rebel-held city of almost 1 million people, and Luhansk, with a population of more than 400,000 people, have taken the brunt of the damage from Ukraine government forces in recent weeks. Shelling is an almost-daily event in the cities about 100 miles apart. Power, water, telephone service have been spotty or non-existent in much of the region.

Irina Verigina, recognized by the Kiev government as the Luhansk governor, has said she doesn't want the aid. She accused the Russian government of trying to send aid by day -- and rockets by night. The Ukraine government says it has been providing some humanitarian aid to the area.

Ukraine's national security council said government forces pushed forward over the weekend, capturing a district police station in Luhansk and gaining strength elsewhere in the region.

The rebels have given ground in recent weeks, but they continued to show the ability to strike hard. Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky said Sunday that the separatists have shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane over the Luhansk region after it launched an attack on rebels. The status of the pilot had not been determined.

Military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko said the government had information that separatists had received reinforcement from Russia, but also said there is evidence rebels are complaining about not receiving some of the equipment they have been promised.

Russia has consistently denied allegations that it is supporting the rebels with equipment or training. But Ukraine's president on Friday said that Ukraine had destroyed a large number of military vehicles that had recently crossed from Russia, a claim denied by Russian officials..

Kiev was taking no chances with the aid convoy. A large X-ray machine was brought to the Russian crossing point Sunday, and Paul Picard, the head of a border-monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said it would be used to inspect the cargo.

Contributing: Associated Press



Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: Ukraine separatists pounded, aid stuck at border

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