Ukraine: Rebels continue their onslaught on Debaltseve
Russia-backed rebels on Tuesday continued their onslaught on the railroad junction of Debaltseve.
Russia-backed rebels on Tuesday continued their onslaught on the railroad junction of Debaltseve, the epicenter of fighting between the separatist and government troops in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials said.
Fierce fighting around the town linking two major separatist cities rages on despite a cease-fire deal brokered by European leaders which went into effect on Sunday and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry scheduled for Tuesday. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainian troops are believe to be trapped in Debaltseve, surrounded by advancing rebel troops.
The separatists said they have taken control of the town and offered the Ukrainian troops the opportunity to surrender and abandon their weapons, a claim Ukraine denied.
Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh said in a televised briefing on Wednesday that the rebels launched five artillery strikes on Debaltseve overnight thus "grossly violating the peace accords."
Associated Press journalists were turned back by rebel forces outside Vuhlehirsk, about 10 kilometers (six miles) west of Debaltseve, early on Wednesday and were unable to assess the status of the fight. Regular artillery fire, coming from the rebel side, was heard in the area.
Kiev has admitted that soldiers had been taken prisoner in Debaltseve, but gave no details on how many were seized.
Rebel spokesman Eduard Basurin said hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered in Debaltseve. Russian state-owned television on Wednesday showed images of several dozen Ukrainian troops being escorted along a village road by the rebels.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on a visit on Budapest on Tuesday suggested that Ukrainian forces should lay down their arms.
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