Ukraine Gov't Forces Leaving Debaltseve
Part of Ukraine's armed forces have left the beleaguered hub of Debaltseve in the country's east, its President Poroshenko has confirmed.
Intention to leave the city was declared as early as Tuesday evening, hours after the withdrawal of heavy armor failed to begin amid accusations from both rebels and the Kiev army of numerous ceasefire violations.
Fighting seems to be ongoing in the city, according to Russian-language news websites, but part of Kiev forces have been evacuated.
Pro-Russian rebels who have been besieging Debaltseve in the last weeks had pledged not to pull out heavy weapons, an obligation under the Minsk agreements forged last week, until the army left.
They claim Debaltseve is not part of the accord.
A government commander is quoted by AFP as saying that troops' pullout is going on "as planned".
However, rebel officials told Russian agency RIA that Kiev forces are surrendering "en masse", with a few hundred people having laid down their arms. They also say commanders of the Ukrainian army have fled, leaving the remaining troops "demoralized".
Donetsk rebels' deputy commander Eduard Basurin estimates that some 3000 were still in the city as of 11:00 local time (09:00 GMT) on Wednesday.
The US meanwhile continued its accusations, with Washington arguing Moscow is still violating the Minsk agreement and urging it to stop.
This follows a vote in the United Nations Security Council to approve the ceasefire deal brokered by the leaders of France, Germany and Russia last week. The diplomatic success has often been described as a last-ditch attempt at ending the conflict in Ukraine as the country's President Petro Poroshenko and rebel forces signed a document under which both sides have to lay down arms to help de-escalate the situation.
"The costs to Russia will rise" if does not change its approach, USA Today quotes US Vice President Joe Biden as saying. Moscow, however, denies active involvement in Eastern Ukraine.
At the UNSC vote, Russia again vented its anger by accusations in has kept arming the rebels after US representative Samantha Power called on her Russian counterpart: "Stop sending hundreds of heavy weapons across the border in addition to your troops. Stop pretending you are doing what you are doing."
During his visit to Hungary on Tuesday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Kiev to allow its troops to lay down arms.
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