On the way out of Donetsk Wednesday morning, VOA saw a convoy of four vehicles from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) driving through the eastern Ukrainian city.
Vehicles and documents were checked, then waved, through rebel checkpoints out of Donetsk while troops at Ukrainian checkpoints took more time to search bags and question passengers.
At one Ukrainian checkpoint, the line of cars, vans and buses parked on both sides of the road stretched clear to the horizon.
Passengers coming from Donetsk stood at the roadside or crouched on the grass in what shade they could find, in what seemed like quiet disbelief. Donetsk residents told VOA they can spend hours getting in and out of the rebel-controlled city.
A couple of tanks poked out from the trees nearby as a caterpillar excavator operated by troops dug into the roadside next to a recently cleared patch of trees and a soldier peered into the distance through binoculars.
Last week, the area near Donetsk witnessed the worst fighting in months between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatist fighters. At least 18 people were killed and dozens more were reported wounded.
Each side blamed the other for the new violence, which Ukrainian officials say began when about 1,000 pro-Russian rebel fighters, backed by artillery and tanks, launched a predawn attack just west of the city.
Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of inciting the new fighting, saying Moscow had ordered militants to begin military operations near Donetsk, some 50 kilometers from the Russian border.
The Kremlin insists it has no direct role in the crisis and has repeatedly denied supporting the rebellion with arms and fighters.