By Julian Hattem - 07/26/14 02:56 PM EDT
Ukrainian military forces have begun a campaign to take back the eastern separatist region of Donetsk, according to multiple reports on Saturday.
Troops are pushing against pro-Russian separatist groups that have taken control of the regional capital for months, and which western leaders say are being backed by Moscow.
According to a government spokesman quoted by the Washington Post, the military has rooted out rebels in 10 nearby towns and closed off roads used by separatist groups to access Donetsk, in an effort to prevent them from refilling their supplies of ammunition and other equipment.
Donetsk, a city of about 1 million people, has become one of the prime centers of insurgent action after Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea earlier this year.
Roads out of the city were jammed with people fleeing the violence on Saturday, according to CNN. Tens of thousands of people have fled to Russia since violence first broke out earlier this year.
Donetsk lies mere miles from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed this month killing all 298 people onboard. Officials have blamed the separatists for bringing down the plane, most likely mistakenly, using weapons shuttled from Russia.
On the Russian side of the border, however, an estimated 15,000 troops have been amassing, as Moscow trades verbal barbs with western nations including the U.S.
In the Washington Post on Saturday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked Washington to increase its aide to his country and impose more crippling sanctions on Russia.