Weapons convoys seen rolling in eastern Ukraine

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Weapons convoys seen rolling in eastern Ukraine
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine stand in line as they return to Russia on the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine, return to Russia as people wait to enter Ukraine on the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine stand in line as they return to Russia in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine return to Russia as people wait to enter Ukraine at the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine, stand in line as they return to Russia in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine, return to Russia as people wait to enter Ukraine at the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine stand in line as they return to Russia on the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine stand in line as they return to Russia in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
First trucks of the Russian aid convoy stand in the Russian inspection zone inside a border control point with Ukraine in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Russia has been trying to send in about 200 trucks carrying what it says is humanitarian aid to help civilians in Luhansk, but Ukraine fears the move is a ploy to aid the pro-Russian separatists, and the convoy has been held up at the border for a week.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A driver carries empty water bottles as he walks past trucks forming part of an aid convoy parked in a field about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from the Ukrainian border, near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. Hundreds of trucks in a Russian aid convoy are waiting near the Ukrainian border as complicated procedures drag on for allowing them into eastern Ukraine to help civilians suffering amid fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
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. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A driver stands near trucks as the first part of Russian aid convoy is parked inside a border control point with Ukraine in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
About 60 trucks forming part of a Russian aid convoy are parked in a field about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from a border control point with Ukraine in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Thursday evening, Aug. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A driver installs a red flag on his lorry, parked with other lorries of the Russian humanitarian convoy not far from a checkpoint at the Ukrainian border some 30 km outside the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in the Rostov region, on August 20, 2014. A tension between Moscow and Kiev simmering over Russia's decision to try and deliver what it claims to be a huge humanitarian aid convoy that the Ukrainian authorities fear may be used to smuggle in arms to the pro-Kremlin insurgents. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV (Photo credit should read DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Lorries part of a Russian humanitarian convoy are parked not far from a checkpoint at the Ukrainian border some 30 km outside the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in the Rostov region, on August 20, 2014. A tension between Moscow and Kiev simmering over Russia's decision to try and deliver what it claims to be a huge humanitarian aid convoy that the Ukrainian authorities fear may be used to smuggle in arms to the pro-Kremlin insurgents. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV (Photo credit should read DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Lorries part of a Russian humanitarian convoy are parked not far from a checkpoint at the Ukrainian border some 30 km outside the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in the Rostov region, on August 19, 2014. A tension between Moscow and Kiev simmering over Russia's decision to try and deliver what it claims to be a huge humanitarian aid convoy that the Ukrainian authorities fear may be used to smuggle in arms to the pro-Kremlin insurgents. AFP PHOTO/DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV (Photo credit should read DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Lorries part of a Russian humanitarian convoy are parked not far from a checkpoint at the Ukrainian border some 30 km outside the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in the Rostov region, on August 19, 2014. A tension between Moscow and Kiev simmering over Russia's decision to try and deliver what it claims to be a huge humanitarian aid convoy that the Ukrainian authorities fear may be used to smuggle in arms to the pro-Kremlin insurgents. AFP PHOTO/DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV (Photo credit should read DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Drivers prepare to show cargos to journalists in a field where the aid convoy is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Cargo of one of aid convoy trucks is shown to journalists in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Bottles with water are placed in the back of a truck as Russian Ministry of Emergency Situation decided to show the aid convoy to journalists in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A man takes a picture of an aid convoy witch is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A driver jumps out from a truck which he opened to show its cargo to journalists in a field where the aid convoy is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A driver in the back of his truck shows a tin containing condensed milk to journalists in a field where the aid convoy is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
An aid convoy is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A driver stands near trucks as an aid convoy is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
An aid convoy is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
In this image taken from video a convoy of white trucks with humanitarian aid leaves Alabino, outside Moscow Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. The convoy of 280 Russian trucks headed for eastern Ukraine early Tuesday, one day after agreement was reached on an international humanitarian relief mission. But the international Red Cross, which is due to coordinate the operation, said it had no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were going. (AP Photo/ RTR via Associated Press Television) TV OUT RUSSIA OUT
In this image taken from video a Russian Orthodox Church clergyman blesses a convoy of white trucks with humanitarian aid in Alabino, outside Moscow Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. The convoy of 280 Russian trucks headed for eastern Ukraine early Tuesday, one day after agreement was reached on an international humanitarian relief mission. But the international Red Cross, which is due to coordinate the operation, said it had no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were going. (AP Photo/RTR, via Associated Press Television) TV OUT RUSSIA OUT
In this taken from video a convoy of white trucks with humanitarian aid is ready to leave Alabino, outside Moscow Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. The convoy of 280 Russian trucks headed for eastern Ukraine early Tuesday, one day after agreement was reached on an international humanitarian relief mission. But the international Red Cross, which is due to coordinate the operation, said it had no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were going. (AP Photo/RTR via Associated Press Televison) TV OUT RUSSIA OUT
In this image taken from video a convoy of white trucks with humanitarian aid on its way to Voronezh, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. The convoy of 280 Russian trucks headed for eastern Ukraine early Tuesday, one day after agreement was reached on an international humanitarian relief mission. But the international Red Cross, which is due to coordinate the operation, said it had no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were going. (AP Photo/ RTR via Associated Press Television) TV OUT RUSSIA OUT
People cross the border at a checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian humanitarian convoy is to cross the border on August 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister insisted Wednesday that Kiev would not let any Russian convoy onto its territory, saying any 'provocation by the cynical aggressor' would be blocked. 'No 'humanitarian convoy' of Putin's will be allowed to cross the territory of the Kharkiv region,' Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, adding that 'provocation by the cynical aggressor will not be permitted on our territory.' AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People cross the border at a checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian humanitarian convoy is to cross the border on August 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister insisted Wednesday that Kiev would not let any Russian convoy onto its territory, saying any 'provocation by the cynical aggressor' would be blocked. 'No 'humanitarian convoy' of Putin's will be allowed to cross the territory of the Kharkiv region,' Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, adding that 'provocation by the cynical aggressor will not be permitted on our territory.' AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
An Ukrainian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian humanitarian convoy is to cross the border on August 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister insisted Wednesday that Kiev would not let any Russian convoy onto its territory, saying any 'provocation by the cynical aggressor' would be blocked. 'No 'humanitarian convoy' of Putin's will be allowed to cross the territory of the Kharkiv region,' Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, adding that 'provocation by the cynical aggressor will not be permitted on our territory.' AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
An Ukrainian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian humanitarian convoy is to cross the border on August 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister insisted Wednesday that Kiev would not let any Russian convoy onto its territory, saying any 'provocation by the cynical aggressor' would be blocked. 'No 'humanitarian convoy' of Putin's will be allowed to cross the territory of the Kharkiv region,' Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, adding that 'provocation by the cynical aggressor will not be permitted on our territory.' AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
An Ukrainian border guard stands guard at the checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on the Ukraine-Russia border, where a Russian humanitarian convoy must to cross on August 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister insisted Wednesday that Kiev would not let any Russian convoy onto its territory, saying any 'provocation by the cynical aggressor' would be blocked. 'No 'humanitarian convoy' of Putin's will be allowed to cross the territory of the Kharkiv region,' Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, adding that 'provocation by the cynical aggressor will not be permitted on our territory.' AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
An Ukrainian border guard checks a passing car at a checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian humanitarian convoy is to cross the border on August 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister insisted Wednesday that Kiev would not let any Russian convoy onto its territory, saying any 'provocation by the cynical aggressor' would be blocked. 'No 'humanitarian convoy' of Putin's will be allowed to cross the territory of the Kharkiv region,' Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, adding that 'provocation by the cynical aggressor will not be permitted on our territory.' AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII STEPANOV (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A driver washes the windshield of his truck as an aid convoy is parked in Voronezh, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
An aid convoy is parked about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
An elderly man and woman look at trucks, marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine, as they return to Russia on the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Trucks marked as being from a bitterly disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine stand in line as they return to Russia on the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. An Associated Press reporter counted 67 trucks entering the border crossing in the Russian city of Donetsk before noon Saturday. Another AP reporter on the Ukrainian side of the border said a line of trucks about 3 kilometers (2 miles) long was waiting to cross. The checkpoint on the Ukrainian side was being operated by separatist rebels, who inspected the trucks. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
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By MSTYSLAV CHERNOV

KRASNODON, Ukraine (AP) - For several evenings this month, convoys of military weaponry passed with clockwork-like regularity through Krasnodon, a rebel-held town in eastern Ukraine near the porous border with Russia.

The convoys were seen three times last week by Associated Press reporters, and one of them carried about 30 units of weaponry and supplies. All were coming from the direction of Russia and heading west to where pro-Moscow separatists were fighting Ukrainian troops.

One rebel fighter described how easy it was to cross into Ukraine through a Russian-controlled frontier post in a convoy that included a tank, adding that the border officer appeared unfazed at the deadly cargo.

NATO and Ukraine have accused Moscow of covertly shuttling heavy artillery and other weapons to the separatists - allegations that Russia routinely denies. NATO says since mid-August, those weapons have been fired from both inside Ukraine and from Russian territory.

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EDITORS' NOTE - Associated Press journalist Mstyslav Chernov was among AP reporters who spent a week in rebel-held territory along the Ukraine-Russian border waiting for a Russian aid convoy to enter Ukraine. Here is his account:

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A safe distance from the shelling that has scarred other areas of the separatist Luhansk region, Krasnodon acts as a hub to supply the rebels with weapons and for getting much-needed humanitarian supplies to residents.

The town of 40,000 people is only 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the border. Residents venture out in the morning to buy groceries, but the streets are empty by evening. Only rebels sit and drink at the few bars still open.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the largest rebel-controlled city, Donetsk, said earlier this month that his forces were being bolstered by 1,200 fighters who underwent training in Russia. He said the fighters have 150 armored vehicles, including 30 tanks, and have gathered near a "corridor" along the Russian border.

When asked about the military hardware, Zakharchenko insisted it was all taken from Ukrainian forces in battle - a notion scoffed at by the Ukrainian government.

On three evenings between Aug. 19 and Aug. 23, AP reporters saw large convoys of military hardware pass through Krasnodon from areas near the Russian border and head north and west, toward the fighting. They were later seen returning empty of their cargo. On other days during that period, the reporters only heard the convoys.

Supplies heading west, toward the conflict zones, are frequently seen both during the day and night near Krasnodon.

It was not the first time that AP journalists had seen heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine.

On July 17, AP reporters in the town of Snizhne saw a tracked launcher with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles parked on a street. The bulky missile system is also known as a Buk M-1. Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises and then saw the wreckage and bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 fall from the sky. All 298 people aboard were killed when the plane was shot down.

Rebel fighters in Krasnodon freely boast about their military equipment, although they have refused to give their full names, fearing repercussions if their identities were disclosed.

One told the AP on Aug. 18 that he had seen a major new arrival of equipment traveling toward the rebel-held city of Luhansk, which is virtually surrounded by government troops and has come under weeks of sustained shelling that has cut off water, power and phone service, and led to daily bread lines.

"We thought, at last! There were tanks and Buks (missile launchers) - three battalions in all. My arm started to hurt from all the waving," he said, identifying himself with only his nom de guerre of "Vityaz."

Some of the hardware in the separatists' hands is indeed well-worn and very old. Other items are clearly new, such as the four Tigr SUVs - a Russian version of the Hummer - that was seen by AP journalists Aug. 19 on a country road away from the main highway near Krasnodon.

A column of five trucks carrying fuel and ammunition was seen Wednesday morning by the AP. Although covered with tarps, some of the boxes of ammunition were visible in the open back of one of the trucks. The trucks were later seen returning, empty.

In the Ukrainian villages along the snaking Seversky Donets River that forms part of the border with Russia, rebels had an array of heavy armaments, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and rocket launchers.

Every day, usually in the evening, the sound of artillery barrages can be heard from the direction of Molodohvardiisk, 6 miles (10 kilometers) north of Krasnodon.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu has said that since mid-August, NATO has seen multiple reports that Russia is transferring tanks and other heavy weapons to the separatists in Ukraine.

"Russian artillery support - both cross-border and from within Ukraine - is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces," she said in a statement Friday.

Previously, the West had accused Russia of cross-border shelling only. Ukrainian security services have also produced what they say is satellite evidence showing equipment and fighters crossing from Russia along country routes.

With more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the border in rebel hands, however, fighters brag that making the trip from Russia to Ukraine is simple.

One official crossing under rebel control is near the Ukrainian town of Izvaryne, 9 miles (15 kilometers) east of Krasnodon. That frontier post was used Friday by Russia to send hundreds of trucks into rebel-held territory as part of an aid convoy - a move that Ukraine denounced as an invasion.

About a month ago, Ukrainian forces were shelling the Izvaryne crossing regularly, but the way has been wide open for days.

Rebel fighters from a mobile combat group led by a commander who gave his nom de guerre as "Sniper" exchanged tales of their exploits last week as they waited for a delivery of emergency food to be unloaded at an orphanage for disabled children in Krasnodon. The men spoke openly in the presence of an AP reporter.

One fighter described the ease in crossing the Russian-controlled border with weapons visible.

"We go through the border in full uniform, totally decked out, with weapons sticking out of the window, five people in the car," he said. "A border guard comes up to us. He looks at us for a long time. Looks at the weapons, then back at us. And then he says: 'Open the trunk?'"

Everyone in the group laughed at the story.

Another fighter from Sniper's group joined in.

"So, I am going through the border and a guard jumps out of the bushes and shouts: 'Stop! Who goes there? Do you have any weapons?'" the man said.

When told yes, the guard then asked to see them - not because he wanted to confiscate them but because he was curious as to what kind of weapons they were, the man recounted.

"Turns out that they don't get service weapons!" he told his colleagues, to more laughter.

A third fighter described how his column was crossing the border where a guard was looking through binoculars. "We almost ran him over with the tank! He wasn't expecting that," he said.

The men in the group all spoke Russian with accents from many different parts of Russia. Separatist leaders initially tried to cast their fighting force as a purely local effort, but it has become evident that many Russians, including an unknown number from Chechnya, are serving in the rebel ranks.

The Russian fighters generally have better uniforms, powerful automatic rifles and bulletproof vests.

Those fighters staying in Krasnodon's main hotel freely admit they don't take orders from local Ukrainian rebel commanders. They describe themselves as "volunteers" from Russia, only to later deny it with a wink. They do not say specifically who commands them.

A militiaman from the city of Angarsk in Russia's Far East who went by the name of "Angara" said their fighting spirit remains strong.

"All our food and supplies come from Russia. Everything gets through," he said.

Angara added that civilians help by cooking them meals like borscht and bringing them water, while the fighters share their medicine with them.

"There are no hungry fighters here, thank God," he said.

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