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Blasts, Black Smoke Near Ukraine's Mariupol Port: Witness

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine - A dozen blasts and plumes of black smoke were reported Thursday by a Reuters witness a few miles to the east of the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine. Earlier, a military source said Ukraine's army was on a state of heightened alert near Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Azov Sea that guards the way towards Russian-annexed Crimea.

A Ukrainian soldier told Reuters he had seen pro-Russian separatists advancing on the city with tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery. His comments could not be independently confirmed. "Our plan is to stay here (in an eastern district of Mariupol) and not to budge an inch," said the soldier, who was from Ukraine's Azov battalion. The news comes amid conflicting reports about a cease-fire in the region and as world leaders gathered for the NATO summit where the Ukraine crisis was high on the agenda.

IN-DEPTH

- Reuters

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