Rebels Trap Ukrainian Troops In Debaltseve Pocket

By United Nations Cartographic Section; Alex Khristov. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The battle for the strategic city of Debaltseve has continued despite a ceasefire which came into effect on February 15.

Thousands of Ukrainian troops now find themselves encircled by enemy forces. Deputy commander Yuriy Sinkovsky of Ukraine’s 40th Battalion spoke to the Ukrainian media, telling them that his troops are in a “critical and outrageous” situation. Despite previous claims from the pro-Russian rebels that they had taken the city, Sinkovsky maintained that his troops had not surrendered, writes Christopher Harress of the International Business Times.

Ukrainian troops surrender out of the question

Sinkovsky conceded that “enemy forces are much stronger” but ruled out surrender. “[We’re] waiting for reinforcements from the General Staff or OSCE representatives,” said Sinkovsky, a reference to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is responsible for monitoring the ceasefire signed last week in Minsk.

“Support has still failed to come,” the Ukrainian officer said during a phonecall. “Fighting is underway. There are prisoners. [The bodies of killed] and [wounded soldiers] cannot be evacuated from the checkpoints. The roads have been mined. All the rest [of my troops] are sitting, watching, waiting for the battalion to be killed.”

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Debaltseve: Strategic transport junction

Neither the rebels nor the Ukrainian troops respected Tuesday’s deadline to withdraw heavy weaponry from Debaltseve area, with both sides refusing to withdraw until their adversaries did. The strategic location of Debaltseve meant that it became a focal point leading up to the ceasefire, with both sides attempting to solidify their positions.

Although the ceasefire was largely respected in other parts of the country, fighting has continued around Debaltseve, and skirmishes have also been reported in the port city of Mariupol. Debaltseve is located between the rebel-held regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, and sits on an intersection of two major arterial roads connecting the two. It is also home to a strategic railway junction which provides access to coalfields.

According to reports there are between 8,000 and 10,000 Ukrainian troops in the Debaltseve area. The rebels had previously claimed they would give government troops safe passage to leave the city, but it is not known whether that promise is still on the table.

The Associated Press reported that rebels have taken some government troops prisoner, but there were no details as to how many they were or what has happened to them now.