News / Europe

    Ukraine Fighting Shifts to Mariupol After Debaltseve Takeover

    Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve have set up new positions near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015.
    Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve have set up new positions near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015.
    VOA News

    Hopes for a tattered Ukrainian cease-fire continued to fade Thursday with reports of fresh fighting near the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

    Kyiv military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh said pro-Russian separatists - fresh from a victory over Ukrainian forces at Debaltseve - began the heavy shelling of the village of Shyrokyne on the outskirts of Mariupol on Wednesday.  The main seaport in eastern Ukraine, Mariupol was the scene of intense fighting last year, before Ukrainian forces took control of the city.

    Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko condemned the takeover of a key eastern Ukrainian town by pro-Russian rebels as violating an internationally brokered cease-fire during a call with those involved in hammering out the agreement last week.

    Poroshenko said during a phone call with the leaders of Russia, Germany and France on Thursday "not to pretend that what happened in Debaltseve was in line with the Minsk agreements" that were reached last week and went into effect Sunday.

    Map of Debaltseve, UkraineMap of Debaltseve, Ukraine
    Map of Debaltseve, Ukraine
    Map of Debaltseve, Ukraine

    On Wednesday, thousands of weary and demoralized Ukrainian troops were withdrawn from Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub that links the separatist-held areas in Urkaine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

    In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to enforce the cease-fire and discuss consequences of violations.

    France and Germany, which oversaw marathon peace talks last week in Minsk, Belarus, both signaled Thursday that they're determined to salvage the cease-fire deal and keep Ukraine and Russia talking.

    U.S. and European officials expressed hope that, with Debaltseve in rebel hands, the cease-fire could now take hold.

    Fighting continues

    Also, reporters near the towns of Debaltseve and Donetsk said shelling continued in both areas on Thursday.

    Local officials in government-held territory said rebels had also fired mortar bombs at another town further south of Debaltseve. Kyiv fears they are massing for an assault near the major port of Mariupol, Reuters reported.

    According to the cease-fire, both sides were supposed to withdraw heavy weapons in eastern Ukraine beginning Tuesday, but international monitors said Thursday they had not seen either doing so.

    "We have not observed the withdrawal of heavy weapons, however we have observed and reported on the movement of heavy weapons," Michael Bociurkiw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told The Associated Press.

    In a statement, Ukraine's defense ministry said that 13 soldiers had been killed and 157 wounded during the withdrawal. It also said that 82 soldiers were missing, and more than 90 had been taken prisoner by the separatists.

    Poroshenko also called on the pro-Russian separatists to release all Ukrainian soldiers, hundreds of which were thought to have been captured by the rebels during the withdrawal from the eastern city.

    Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve have set up new positions near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015.Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve have set up new positions near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015.
    Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve have set up new positions near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015.
    Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve have set up new positions near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015.

    Vadim, a soldier from Ukraine's 30th brigade, told a Reuters reporter about the troop withdrawal: “There are no words to describe it. Along the entire way we were blanketed with shots, wherever there were trees they fired at us from machine guns and grenade launchers. They used everything.”

    He spoke from Artemivsk, a government-held town north of Debaltseve where the soldiers assembled after they withdrew.

    Peacekeeping mission

    Poroshenko called for an international peacekeeping mission to restore calm to the area as well. The appeal was rejected Thursday by both rebel and Moscow leaders.

    Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations said the proposal suggests Kyiv is trying to undermine the cease-fire reached last week in Minsk, Belarus.

    "When someone starts to propose some schemes instead of doing what had been agreed, it primarily arouses suspicion that they want to undermine the Minsk agreements," Churkin was quoted as saying by the Russian state-owned TASS news agency.

    Russia has in the past proposed sending its own peacekeepers, but the OSCE tuled out a Russian role in any force, describing Moscow as an “aggressor.”

    Denis Pushilin, spokesman for the so-called Donetsk people's republic, also said Ukraine's request for international peacekeepers "violates the set of measures aimed at implementing Minsk's February 12 peaceful settlement agreements," according to the Interfax news agency.

    The White Houseon Thursday said it was “deeply troubled” by reports of continued fighting and NATO's top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said he did not think the truce had ever even begun.

    “It is a cease-fire in name only,” Breedlove said during a visit to Kosovo, adding that the loss of Debaltseve to rebels was "concerning."

    The White House said Wednesday that it is "crystal clear" that Russia and the separatists in eastern Ukraine are not living up to the cease-fire agreement, and warned this puts them "at risk of greater costs."

    Russia insists it has no weapons or forces in eastern Ukraine, despite evidence and reports from witnesses that it has taken a direct role in the fighting.

    Death toll

    The war in eastern Ukraine has killed 5,600 people and forced over a million to flee their homes since fighting began in April, a month after Russia annexed the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.

    Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the Energy Ministry and gas company Gazprom to work out proposals to supply gas to east Ukraine as humanitarian aid, TASS news agency reported on Thursday.

    Medvedev was quoted as saying Russia should supply gas to the rebel-controlled regions if Ukraine failed to restore deliveries.

    Also, the International Monetary Fund on Thursday said it is confident Ukraine should get an overall $40 billion financing package to support its economy, without providing details about the breakdown of funds.

    The IMF last week said its staff had reached an agreement with the Ukraine government on a new economic program with about $17.5 billion coming from the Fund and additional resources from the international community.

    Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 3
    by: Nickolay from: Ukraine
    February 21, 2015 4:31 PM
    One year ago millions of Ukrainians beleived in EU and defended the choice to become a civilized EU country where Law and Dignity should be ruling, but not corrupted bureaucrats like in Russia. These Maidan protests were not anti-Russian, but shown like that by Russian Putin-fully-controlled TV that tried to discredit this revolution.

    Now we see that Budapest Memorandum 1994 where Russia, USA and UK were the Warrants, is a piece of paper, nothing else.

    Puting is going on with arms, troops and lethal weapons trying to kill Ukrainian independent country. No one from the West is still showing real support to us. We feel we are alone fighting against the soviet forces attacking us!

    by: Chris C from: USA
    February 20, 2015 12:48 PM
    The fighting around Donetsk was much more oriented to Mariupol than the article seems to indicate. There was a Ukrainian government salient at Debaltseve. By eliminating the salient, the length of the defensive line in the area was just about halved. This allows Putin to send 9,000-15,000 Russian troops from supporting the Donetsk front to attacking Maruipol.

    It is critical to Putin that Russia establishes a land bridge from Russia along the west side of the Sea of Azov in order to secure the Crimea. Otherwise the Crimea is entirely dependent on Ukrainian infrastructure and the only link with Russia is via a creaky Stalin-era ferry service.

    It should also be noted, that as with the Crimea, loss of access to the Sea of Azov cedes trillions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves to Putin and his cronies. In all, Putin's military actions in the Ukraine have sidelined a country that could have become Europe's largest supplier of oil and natural gas. There was an estimated $12 trillion USD in oil and gas in the Black Sea and the rebel-held territory coincides perfectly with Europe's largest oil shale deposits. The only ort left for the Ukraine was modest reserves in the Sea of Azov.

    by: robert mitchell from: massillon,ohio
    February 20, 2015 12:43 PM
    I am so sadden by all that is going on in Ukraine. To all you world leaders who worked on a ceasefire agreement,let mesay this ,all you doing is giviing Putin time to make his next move. Wake up world leaders.This man is not honoring a ceasefire,and you all our to niece to realize it. Tell me, why are you all so afraid of Putin. This president is crying out for help as well as the people,and what tall do,send them a little money and say,"hey you are on your own". To my president of the USA,sir,why sent you doing more to help???

    Putin should be kicked off the United Nation. Russia should not have a seat after all they have done. Not Putin has turned his rebels on another major city. So now what? Merkel,Hollande,and the UN?? Oh wait on the ceasefire to work? Stop kidding yourself because you well as the world that it will never never be implemented. Again this man(Putin)is just playing you guys like a fool. Sad part bout it,you all are falling for it. To the president of Ukraine, my prayers are with you sir. To you world leaders,shame on you. To the Baltic states,stay tuned because you are next on Putin's list.

    by: Teddy from: Boston
    February 20, 2015 12:34 PM
    Im curious as to why Ukraine doesn't just cut it's losses in the east and withdraw to areas Russia cannot come up with any excuse to invade? Maybe this would open up being able to join NATO and the European union. Granted, I'm not there and don't know the full story, just a thought
    In Response

    by: Chris C from: USA
    February 20, 2015 12:50 PM
    No country can join NATO, the EU or the ECC unless its borders are "well-established and uncontested." This eliminates Moldava, Georgia, and the Ukraine from NATO or EU membership.

    by: Michelle from: Florida
    February 20, 2015 11:27 AM
    I just saw another article before this one talking about US deal with Turkey to train and equip the rebels in Syria to fight the government. Is there a difference between what Russia is doing in Ukraine and what we are doing in Syria or am I missing something?
    In Response

    by: brian from: california
    February 21, 2015 1:07 AM
    You are missing something. Perhaps morals.
    In Response

    by: JustWorld from: US
    February 20, 2015 12:36 PM
    You are missing a lot. Syria is ruled by a dictator who has killed over 200,000 of its people that dared protest. We have humanitarian obligation to prevent further massacre. Ukraine is democratic country, which elected its leader under careful observation by OSCE monitors, who confirmed that voting was fair and credible. Its powerful neighbor just stole part of its territory and annexed it shamelessly and is hell bent to take more. So, there is all the difference in the world.
    In Response

    by: Terry from: Canada
    February 20, 2015 12:32 PM
    It depends on who is supplying the spin on the situation. While you will be told that they are training these fighters to fight the group ISIS the reality is they are training them to go and remove Assad. He would be the guy that the American people told Obama that he couldn't attack. But now they are just ignoring your call and using the pretext that they are fighting a band of ruthless terrorists. Does that not sound similar to those weapons of mass destruction they told you about ? But the end game is another regime change just like Ukraine.
    In Response

    by: Paul from: New York
    February 20, 2015 12:27 PM
    Yes, there's a clear difference. In Syria, you had peaceful protests by Syrians who wanted democracy but were brutally attacked and killed by a dictator's regime. That is what started the armed rebellion in Syria.

    In the Ukraine, you also had peaceful protest where the protesters were also killed, however the puppet government was ousted in place of a more widely accepted and democratically elected representative. Then Russia fearing Ukraine's move towards relations with the EU and joining of NATO started a proxy war under the illusion of autonomy. Another key difference is that the US openly admits to supporting the rebels and regime change where Russia continues to deny any involvement.

    I have no doubt the US wanted Al Assad out and a more Western friend govt. in place. The only similarity is that innocent people are dieing in both of those countries over Geo-polotics.
    In Response

    by: Benito C from: Phoenix, AZ
    February 20, 2015 12:27 PM
    You haven't missed just've missed a whole basket of things, which led you to a very dangerous and wrong headed conclusion.

    1. For starters, neither the USA or Turkey are annexing any part of Syria or Iraq, nor will they annex any part of those countries. Russia, after arming proxies to take the territory, has literally annexed the Crimea, which was and remains part of the Ukraine. That, in and of itself, creates a world of difference between the two situations.

    2. You read the article wrong. Consider this quote directly from the AP: "ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey and the United States signed an agreement Thursday to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group, said the U.S. Embassy in Ankara."

    The primary purpose of the armament of rebels in Syria is to fight ISIS, which recognizes no borders and threatens all neighbors (Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, etc). No such analogue in the Ukraine, sorry.

    3. Neither the USA or Turkey negotiated any Minsk-type pact with Syria last week, but Russia did with the Ukraine, and immediately breached said agreement.

    by: Terry from: Canada
    February 20, 2015 11:26 AM
    Why am I reading comment like the only thing Putin fears is the Eagle and Russia needs to stop attacking women and children from Brandon of the USA ? Have you forgot that at Abu Ghraib that is exactly what the USA was doing and also in the rest of Iraq as well. We all should know by now that the US has been using proxy fighters to get a war started and regardless of what Putin does it won't change the rhetoric so have at it guys. The US is spoiling for war but trying to use others to get it started and the unfortunate thing is they will pay the price while the US watches. Was the overthrow of the Ukrainian government worth it ? Why should Ukrainian people die for a cause the US/EU want ? I'm no Putin lover but it was clear from the beginning that the US was once again interfering.
    In Response

    by: Alex from: Austria
    February 20, 2015 2:48 PM
    Ahh it has always been like that hasn't it? The ruling classes posture and threaten, but they rarely have to pay for anything. In the end, the commoners pay the bills with their lives and futures. Usually the only thing the nobles lost was their pride but the people loose their crops and lives. very sad

    by: leonid from: Ukraine
    February 20, 2015 9:08 AM
    Thank you, Frau Merkel and Hollande for help. They stated, that this situation not decided with military force. But Putin solves it by military force. War machine of Russia is already running and nobody will stop it.
    In Response

    by: Leslie from: US
    February 22, 2015 1:07 AM
    How many more innocent Ukrainians need to die, before Merkel, and company finally figure out that there is no "diplomatic" solution cause Putin does not want a "diplomatic" solution. All he wants it to grab more of Ukraine.
    In Response

    by: JustWorld from: US
    February 20, 2015 12:37 PM
    It will be stopped. Make no mistake about it. They are giving diplomacy a chance, but things are going to turn real ugly real soon for Russia if this does not stop.
    In Response

    by: Lionel Messi
    February 20, 2015 10:54 AM
    lol, no mention of western criticism, dishonest like the rest. I guess getting paid to write must be fun, shouldn't be out there in the front lines?

    by: Nill from: Sweden
    February 20, 2015 2:46 AM
    Either the idiot or Obama believes in diplomacy with Putin. Russia delivers the weapon and troops after the Minsk-2 agreements. How many children and women have it is killed? What cities will be occupy Russian troops, when all understand Putin is a bully. Nothing more. Only force will stop it. To Ukraine I refused the nuclear weapon. And in exchange she received idle talk, occupation and death of the citizens.
    In Response

    by: Norman
    February 20, 2015 10:50 AM
    Interesting how missed the part where Ukraine government is being accused of committing war crimes? If you put your words in broader context how many children and women have been killed by drones? A good showcase of western dishonesty, so far your moral integrity is real sick and demented when you're playing on favourite on innocent people's lives.

    by: Popsiq from: Buganda
    February 19, 2015 11:09 PM
    The seps will have lots of stuff to shoot at the Ukes in Mariuople.

    Among the garbage, the latrines, the filth and the pigsty left behind by withdrawing Kyiv heroes, was an tons of undestroyed ammunition. They didn't have time to put on their dirty underwear or take their dogs before leaving and the didn't destroy their ammunition, or guns or even the lend lease humvee somebody donated.

    But then those seps would have to love Mariuople after Ukrainians have been 'living' there for six months. They crap where they eat and sleep.

    by: David Arthur Holmgren from: USA
    February 19, 2015 9:52 PM
    With screams of 'grave concern' the world stands by turning its head as V Putin walks down the street dragging the bloody body of Ukraine behind him for all to see. The wake up call is over. The time has come to actually take action.
    In Response

    by: Popsiq from: Buganda
    February 19, 2015 11:11 PM
    The 'body' is covered in its own crap. Nobody but Mother Teresa would drag that, let alone touch it.
    Comments page of 3

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