The fall of Debaltseve is one of the worst defeats of the war for Ukraine’s troops who were unable to stop an advance by pro-Russian rebels fighting for territory the Kremlin calls “New Russia.”
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko is now considering asking for international peace keepers in the east of the country.
He flew to the front line to present medals to the soldiers he described as “our heroes.”
He tried to cast the battle in a positive light, saying that by holding out, they had exposed the true face of the bandits and separatists who are supported by Russia.”
The territory now under rebel control includes Debaltseve.
Kyiv said 22 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the town in the past few days with more than 150 others wounded.
One soldier explained: “I don’t know about other units bit the thirteenth battalion left Debaltseve this morning, the vehicles first. We were ordered to leave this morning but some others have stayed there, they are planting landmines on the base so that the separatists cannot capture it. People are still coming from Debaltseve.”
Poroshenko said it was a planned and orderly withdrawal.
Russian television Channel 1 showed a group of rebels raising the flag of “New Russia” in triumph over a high rise building in Debaltseve.
They described the battle as a victory and said they let the Ukrainian troops leave only after they were defeated.
Debaltseve now links the two major separatist cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Fighting had raged on despite a ceasefire brokered by European leaders which took effect on Sunday.