1,000s of Ukrainians flee eastern city of Debaltseve amid fighting
Thousands of Ukrainians have fled the city of Debaltseve in the eastern region of Donetsk, as Ukrainian government troops are fighting with pro-Russia forces to keep control of the key transport hub.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Sunday that, in just the past days, some 1,000 residents of Debaltseve were evacuated from the city.
According to Deputy Chairman of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine Vasily Stayetsky, several people were wounded during the evacuations on Sunday and 12 people were killed a day earlier in Debaltseve.
Many of those evacuated have received shelter in the Donetsk city of Svyatorhisk, where hundreds of displaced people have taken refuge from across the restive east.
Among those who fled the city was Nastya Mamonova, 14, who described Debaltseve as a “ghost town,” adding, “what is happening is terrible. The whole world needs to know about what is happening.”
The city has seen intense fighting over the past week, with no basic services such as power, water, household gas and heating.
Pro-Russia forces have surrounded Debaltseve almost entirely; the city is a strategically valuable railway hub. Ukrainian government forces took control of the city last July.
Meanwhile, the latest round of the peace talks on Ukraine collapsed on January 31 in Minsk, Belarus, with the envoys of pro-Russia forces and Kiev trading blame for the failure of the negotiations.
The two sides signed an initial peace plan brokered by Russia last September; however, the truce has been violated almost daily by both the Ukrainian military and pro-Russia forces.
The two mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine have been the scene of deadly clashes between pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian army since Kiev’s military operation started in April 2014, in a bid to crush the protests.
Violence intensified in May 2014, after the two flashpoint regions held local referendums in which their residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation.
The fighting has left more than 5,100 people killed and over 1.5 million displaced, the United Nations says.