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Russian ruble tumbles after violence in eastern Ukraine escalates and oil continues to drop

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MOSCOW — The Russian currency fell by more than 3 percent early Monday, after Western leaders threatened to punish Russia for escalated fighting in eastern Ukraine over the weekend.

The ruble tumbled to 65.8 to the dollar from 63.7, one day after rocket fire left at least 30 civilians dead in the city of Mariupol. Western leaders announced that they would consider further punitive measures against Russia for what they say is its role in supporting the separatists, while Russian officials blamed Ukrainian forces for the attack.

PHOTO: Alexandr Atorvin, foreground, speaks to his visiting relatives in a hospital after being injured during an attack on Saturday,  in Mariupol, Eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. Indiscriminate rocket fire slammed into a market, schools, homes and shops Saturday in Ukraine's southeastern city of Mariupol, killing at least 30 people, authorities said. The Ukrainian president called the blitz a terrorist attack and NATO and the U.S. demanded that Russia stop supporting the rebels. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Alexandr Atorvin, foreground, speaks to his visiting relatives in a hospital after being injured during an attack on Saturday, in Mariupol, Eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. Indiscriminate rocket fire slammed into a market, schools, homes and shops Saturday in Ukraine's southeastern city of Mariupol, killing at least 30 people, authorities said. The Ukrainian president called the blitz a terrorist attack and NATO and the U.S. demanded that Russia stop supporting the rebels. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The Russian currency, buffeted by Western sanctions and plummeting oil prices, has already lost about half its value in the past year. While sanctions are set to expire this summer, U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday that his country would work with its European partners to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia" after the latest violence. EU officials said they would hold an extraordinary session to discuss the situation in Ukraine on Thursday.

At least 5,100 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since fighting began in April, but fighting this week was the most intense since a cease-fire deal was signed in September.

Mariupol, a strategically situated port city on the Black Sea still controlled by Ukrainian forces, has been a symbolic bulwark against the separatist advance that if captured by the rebels would give them a land corridor to Russia-controlled Crimea. The city had been relatively quiet for months before the Sunday attack.

There was no fighting in Mariupol early Monday. A road leading out of the city into rebel territory was closed off by Ukrainian forces, making it unclear whether the rebels had advanced closer to the city outskirts. The city streets were quiet as the families of those killed Sunday gathered to bury their dead.

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