UKRAINE TROOPS ORDERED TO RETREAT
ARTEMIVSK — After weeks of fierce, relentless fighting, the embattled rail hub of Debaltseve fell to rebel forces yesterday in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the Russiabacked separatists reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive.
Associated Press reporters saw several dozen Ukrainian troops retreating with their weapons from Debaltseve yesterday morning, covered in dirt and looking exhausted. One soldier spoke of heavy government losses, while another said they had not been able to get food for days because of the rebel shelling.
By yesterday morning, the army had withdrawn 80% of its troops from the town and two more columns had yet to leave, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said. He denied claims by the rebels that the Ukrainians were surrounded and said the troops were leaving Debaltseve with their weapons and ammunition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a visit to Budapest on Tuesday, called on Kiev to admit defeat in the contested town, saying “the only choice” of the Ukrainian troops was to “leave behind weaponry, lay down arms and surrender”.
Russia has denied supplying the separatists with troops and weapons, a claim scoffed at by Western nations and Ukraine, who point to what they say are Nato satellite pictures of Russian weapons in eastern Ukraine.