A city critical to the Ukrainian military may have fallen to Russian-backed separatists, despite the existence of a ceasefire in the country. And it could get ugly.
Citing claims made by the separatists to the Associated Press, The Guardian has reported that the Ukrainian city of Debaltseve has fallen to the rebels. If the claims are true, approximately 8,000 Ukrainian troops are at risk of being encircled, captured, and/or killed by the invading separatist troops.
Debaltseve is a crucial railway hub that serves to bring coal into the rest of Ukraine.
Aside from the energy dimension, the city serves as a possible bulwark where Ukraine can easily transport troops to the front line in any future move to retake the separatist-controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The capture of Debaltseve would also allow separatists to easily ferry soldiers throughout eastern Ukraine by train.
Reuters is reporting that Ukraine’s Defence Ministry has so far denied that any large number of its service personnel have been taken prisoner in the city, although a group of service members has been captured.
The Financial Times reported that Putin is said to have referred to the town as a “boiler” in which several thousand soldiers could possibly be killed.
Since the Ukrainian ceasefire went into effect midnight on Sunday in Ukraine, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty reports that Ukrainian forces have suffered near constant attack from the separatists.
On February 16, separatists fired more than 100 artillery shells into the town in a space of 24 hours. Following the bombardment, the rebels offered to open a safe corridor for Ukrainian troops to retreat from the city and surrender the territory despite the ceasefire.
As fighting continues in Deblatseve, the Ukrainian military has refused to pull their artillery and heavy weapons away from the front lines, the first point of the agreed upon ceasefire, due to the continuation of rebel fire.
“The pre-condition for withdrawal of heavy weapons is fulfilling Point One of the Minsk agreements – the ceasefire. One hundred and twelve attacks are not an indicator of a ceasefire. At the moment we are not ready to withdraw heavy weapons,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a news briefing in Kiev.
The Ukrainian refusal to appease the separatists and pull back its troops from Debaltseve threatens to destroy the entirety of the ceasefire as the separatists also refuse to pull back their artillery. This heavy weapon withdrawal was meant to take place on February 17 as the second step of the ceasefire.
The AP has reported that Ukraine’s presidential office has called on the EU and NATO to condemn the rebels for breaking the ceasefire. Meanwhile, Ukrainian commanders are pleading that Kiev sends help.
“Appeal to the Supreme Commander requesting the adoption of immediate solutions, delivering powerful blow to the Russian-terrorist troops, the conclusion of blocked parts and alignment of the front line,” one commander wrote on Facebook (translated by Google). “The main thing – to keep the core combat-ready units. We are ready to execute any order. We will not allow any panic, but it is time to act.”
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