Conflicting accounts as Ukrainian government troops withdraw from the rebel-held city of Debaltseve, the epicentre of fierce fighting in recent weeks
Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, has confirmed that government troops are withdrawing from the rebel-held city of Debaltseve.
Tanks, armoured vehicles and troop carriers could be seen pulling out of the city, and by midday on Wednesday 80 percent had already left according to the government.
The commander of one of the pro-government troop units said on his Facebook page that the withdrawal was taking place in a planned and organised manner.
The town has been at the centre of fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“There was very heavy shelling”, said one government soldier. “We were praying all the time and saying goodbye to our lives a hundred times. The rebels had really good and powerful artillery.”
Some troops were confused about what was happening:
“I don’t know. Our commanders didn’t tell us whether it’s a retreat or a rotation. They just told us to change our position because our unit had been in the same place for a long time and we had suffered heavy losses.”
Rebel sources claimed the pro-Kyiv troops had surrendered, but the government denied this, claiming some of its soldiers had been captured after running out of ammunition.
Debaltseve spans a railway line linking two rebel strongholds – Donetsk and Luhansk – and separatists claim it is not covered by the ceasefire agreement reached in Minsk last week.
It is clear that that deal has all but unraveled, with both sides having failed to pull back heavy weaponry after the rebels refused to halt their advance.
As far as reporters on the ground have been able to tell, the fierce fighting never really stopped. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainian troops are believed to have been in the region.