Six die as Ukraine withdraws troops

Six Ukrainian servicemen were killed during the withdrawal from the fiercely contested town of Debaltseve, the country’s president has said.

Six die as Ukraine withdraws troops

The Interfax news agency also cited Petro Poroshenko as telling a meeting of the national security council late tonight that more than 100 were injured in the pullout.

Earlier, Mr Poroshenko had announced the withdrawal from the town where Ukrainian forces had been under intense siege from Russia-backed separatist rebels.

He told the security council that, in total, nearly 2,500 servicemen had left.

The Russia-backed separatists reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive as they continued their onslaught on the strategic railroad junction.

Associated Press reporters saw dozens of Ukrainian troops retreating from Debaltseve with their weapons. Some were driving to the nearby town of Artemivsk in trucks while several others were on foot. 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.

“We’re very happy to be here,” said one soldier. “We were praying all the time and already said goodbye to our lives a hundred times.”

Mr Poroshenko said: “Debaltseve was under our control, it was never encircled. Our troops and formations have left in an organised and planned manner.”

He spoke at a Kiev airport as he travelled to eastern Ukraine to “shake the hands” of the soldiers who were pulled out of Debaltseve.

Rebel spokesman Eduard Basurin said hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered in Debaltseve. Russian state-owned television showed images of Ukrainian troops being escorted along a village road by the rebels.

Kiev admitted that some soldiers had been taken prisoner in Debaltseve, but gave no details on how many were seized.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, on a visit to Budapest, had 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”.

Fighting around Debaltseve had raged on despite a ceasefire deal

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