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Ukrainian soldiers withdraw from key town of Debaltseve: Sources

18 February 2015 14:50

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Some government troops have retreated from the strategic eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve, which has been besieged by pro-Russia forces, sources say.

“We are evacuating some of our units,” Ilya Kiva, a local police officer, said on Wednesday morning, adding, “But full-scale street fighting continues, and there was also a small tank battle.”

The pro-Russians said they have the town under their control and offered the Ukrainian military forces a chance to give in, an allegation that was denied by Kiev.

The pro-Russia forces staged five artillery strikes on Debaltseve overnight, thus “grossly violating the peace accords” that came into effect on February 14, Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh claimed in a televised address on Wednesday.

The new deal endorsed by the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine called for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy armaments as the initial steps toward a political settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.

Also on Wednesday, Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said a large number of Ukrainian troops had surrendered in Debaltseve. Russian state-owned television aired images of some Ukrainian troops being escorted by the pro-Russians along a road.

The pro-Russia forces and Kiev troops have been battling for Debaltseve for weeks; the town connects Donetsk and Luhansk, the strongholds of the pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine.

Both cities have been hit by deadly clashes between the pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian army since Kiev launched military operations in April last year to crush pro-Russia protests there.

In May 2014, the situation in the two flashpoint cities started to worsen as residents overwhelmingly voted for independence from Ukraine in referendums.

Nearly 5,700 people have been killed and close to a million have been displaced since the armed conflict began in eastern Ukraine.

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