Those who were trapped at the cauldron in the town of Devaltsevo decided to pullout in the middle of the night, with headlights off. But just as soon as they departed, hellfire came down into their position. These soldiers were not covered on the peace negotiation as their miserable fate was denied even by Poroshenko himself.
Ukrainian Soldiers’ Retreat From Eastern Town Raises Doubt for Truce
By ANDREW E. KRAMER and DAVID M. HERSZENHORNFEB. 18, 2015
ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine — Ukrainian soldiers were forced to fight their way out of the embattled town of Debaltseve in the early hours of Wednesday, casting further doubt on the credibility of a days-old cease-fire and eroding the promise of ending a war in Europe that has killed more than 5,000 people.
It was unclear Wednesday how many of the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in the eastern Ukrainian town had survived the hellish retreat under enemy fire and avoided capture. President Petro O. Poroshenko put the figure at 80 percent, but since the Ukrainian military has never commented on its troop strength, the final accounting may never be known.
By midday on Wednesday, as limping and exhausted soldiers began showing up in Ukraine-held territory, it became clear that the Ukrainian forces had suffered major losses, both in equipment and human life.
“Many trucks left, and only a few arrived,” said one soldier, who offered only his rank, sergeant, and first name, Volodomyr, as he knelt on the sidewalk smoking. “A third of us made it, at most.”
Ukrainian troops arrived on Wednesday in Artemivsk after their withdrawal from the eastern city of Debaltseve.Credit Anatolii Stepanov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The political fallout was as uncertain as the military situation. Mr. Poroshenko sought to cast the retreat in a positive light, saying in a televised statement that he had ordered the troops out of Debaltseve, a strategic transportation hub where intense fighting raged in recent days despite a cease-fire agreement signed last week in Minsk, Belarus.
Yet, his decision to fight for several days before retreating, and his earlier refusal to hand over the town during the cease-fire talks even when a Ukrainian defeat seemed inevitable, could prove contentious in Ukraine as the scale of the potential slaughter comes into focus.
“It was clear they couldn’t get a deal on Debaltseve,” Samuel Charap, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said of the Minsk talks. “The question then becomes: What the hell was Poroshenko thinking?”
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Others are seen taking the Southern route but are not expected to survive. An estimated 1000 troops are still fighting it out inside the cauldron.
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