For the rebel fighters who seized control of this strategic town, Thursday was a day of jubilation and bragging of victory. The retreating Ukrainian soldiers were grim, stunned and relieved to have escaped with their lives as the scope of their losses became clearer: at least 13 dead and hundreds missing, captured or wounded.
Rebel fighters roamed the debris-littered streets of Debaltseve, laughing, hugging and posing for photos a day after the fall of the furiously contested railway hub. Associated Press journalists found its neighborhoods destroyed and all under the control of the rebels.
On the road out of town, dozens of Ukrainian military vehicles, many riddled with bullet holes and with their windshields smashed, were heading to the government-held city of Artemivsk.
The soldiers inside described weeks of harrowing rebel shelling, followed by a hasty retreat.
"We left under heavy fire, driving on back roads," said a soldier who gave only his first name, Andrei. "As we were leaving, we were attacked by artillery and grenade launchers. We came under repeated attack by tanks and assault groups."
As rebels waved separatist flags, Nikolai Kozitsyn, a Russian Cossack leader and prominent warlord in the rebel-controlled east, drove around in a Humvee-like vehicle captured from Ukrainian troops.
All around lay the wrecked remains of Ukrainian armored vehicles. Rebel fighters, many of them Cossacks, searched through the bunkers and tents of an abandoned military encampment, looking to salvage equipment and clothing left behind.
Two rebel fighters inspected an abandoned tank, declaring it a "gift" from the Ukrainian army. They then grabbed a bloodied blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and ground it into the frozen earth with their boots.
But in a reminder of the dangers, one vehicle carrying Cossacks hit a land mine, killing one rebel fighter and wounding another.
Cossacks, who spearheaded imperial Russia's expansion and helped guard its far-flung outposts, trace their historic roots to both Ukraine and southern Russia. They faced persecution under Bolshevik rule but resurfaced after the 1991 Soviet collapse and are now recognized in Russia as an ethnic group who consider themselves descendants of the czarist-era horsemen.
By Thursday, 90 percent of government forces had been withdrawn, a military spokesman said, though he gave no precise figure. Late Wednesday, President Petro Poroshenko said 2,475 soldiers were safely pulled out.
The official toll stood at 13 soldiers killed, 157 wounded, more than 90 captured and at least 82 missing. But retreating soldiers spoke of many more casualties during a hasty and disorderly withdrawal, and the death toll was likely to rise.
Rebel leaders also claimed the Ukrainian casualties were far higher and bragged about seizing large numbers of heavy weapons abandoned by the government forces.
The capture of Debaltseve, a key railroad junction that straddles the route between the separatists' two main cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, was a significant military victory for the rebels.
However, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the three-week siege had left the town's infrastructure in ruins. "A strategic rail hub has stopped its existence the way it was," he said Thursday in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
The retreating soldiers appeared shell-shocked as they described the harrowing battle.
"Starting at night, they would fire at us just to stop us from sleeping. They did this all night," said Andrei, the Ukrainian soldier. "Then in the morning, they would attack, wave after wave. They did this constantly for three weeks."
The battle for Debaltseve defied a cease-fire for eastern Ukraine that was supposed to go into effect Sunday. While the truce mostly held elsewhere, Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh said the rebels had repeatedly shelled a village on the outskirts of the strategic port city of Mariupol over the past 24 hours.
The war in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 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. Russia denies arming the rebels or supplying fighters, but Western nations and NATO point to satellite pictures of Russian military equipment in eastern Ukraine.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke Thursday with the Ukrainian and Russian leaders about cease-fire violations and their consequences. The Kremlin confirmed the four leaders spoke by phone and praised the cease-fire deal, saying it has led to "a reduction in the number of civilian casualties."
France and Germany, which oversaw marathon peace talks last week between Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, both signaled they were determined to salvage the cease-fire agreement and keep the two sides talking.
The German government said the four leaders had agreed "to stick to the Minsk agreements despite the serious breach of the cease-fire in Debaltseve." It said "immediate concrete steps" were necessary to ensure the truce is fully implemented and heavy weapons are withdrawn.
The warring sides were supposed to pull back their heavy weapons from the front lines beginning Tuesday, but international monitors said 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," said Michael Bociurkiw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Poroshenko suggested that the European Union deploy a peacekeeping mission to help ensure the observance of the cease-fire, but the EU has remained non-committal and Russia reacted negatively, saying that the OSCE monitors could do the job.
Paris and Berlin appeared to hope that, with the disputed territory of Debaltseve in rebel hands, the cease-fire can now take hold.
A top French official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing negotiations, described the attitude as "pragmatic," saying continued fighting "was not acceptable to us."
Germany has lowered expectations for the cease-fire in Ukraine.
Merkel told supporters that "Germany and France together, will not ease off on doing everything so that Ukraine can go its way and have its territorial integrity — but we want to do it with Russia, not against Russia."
Analysts said that despite public anger in Kiev over the fall of Debaltseve, an overall cease-fire for eastern Ukraine was probably more important than who controlled one town.
Germany is "more clearly aware than many in Kiev that Ukraine basically needs a cease-fire or a freezing of the conflict more urgently than Moscow," said Gustav Gressel, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "Kiev needs to see sooner or later how it gets out of the war."
(CNN)The body of Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean has been found by divers, police said. Members of a dive and rescue team found the body in 25 feet of water, about 2.5 miles from her mother's residence, around 5:31 p.m. Monday, the Maryland Natural Resources Police said in a statement.( ) Read all
Spain has recorded another 864 deaths related to coronavirus, the highest in one day, as the total number of deaths across Europe has gone beyond 30,000. More than 9,000 people have died in Spain, which is second only to Italy in fatalities caused by the virus. Confirmed cases in the country...( ) Read all
A 13-year-old boy who tested positive for coronavirus has died, a London hospital trust has said. Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton in south London, died in King's College Hospital early on Monday. He is thought to be the youngest person to have died with the virus in the UK.( ) Read all
An elderly Catholic priest reportedly died from the COVID-19 coronavirus after refusing a ventilator so that a younger patient could use it instead. Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, died March 15 at a hospital in Lovere, Italy after declining to use the medical equipment that his parishioners were...( ) Read all
The African saxophone legend Manu Dibango has died in Paris after catching coronavirus. Dibango – best known for his 1972 song Soul Makossa – is one of the first global stars to die from Covid-19. The 86-year-old fused jazz and funk music with traditional sounds from his home...( ) Read all
The lockdown in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the global coronavirus outbreak began, will be partially lifted on 8 April, officials say. Travel restrictions in the rest of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, will be lifted from midnight on Tuesday - for residents who are healthy. A...( ) Read all
A prankster is facing up to five years in prison for causing panic on the Moscow underground. That’s the high price he may yet pay for an ill-conceived attempt to turn Chinese coronavirus hysteria into online likes. A young man in a black tracksuit and a face mask was walking along the...( ) Read all
On 20 March 2020, through a written procedure replacing the 122th Plenary Session of the Venice Commission due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Venice Commission adopted a joint opinion, together with the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Human Rights on draft constitutional amendments...( ) Read all
Coronavirus has killed more people in Italy than in any other country, after deaths there rose by 427 in a day. The number of deaths now stands at 3,405, which is more than in China where the virus originated last year. There have been 3,245 reported deaths in China, but there have been...( ) Read all
“My name is Lilya Moraru. I am 29 years old and I am a fashion designer from Republic of Moldova. „PANIC ATTACK” is the motto of a collection about personality disorders and their integration into society. Of the myriad of mental health problems, panic attacks are the most...( ) Read all
Russian media have deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus, generate panic and sow distrust, according to a European Union document seen by Reuters.( ) Read all
The number of people dying from coronavirus in Italy has risen by 475 in one day to nearly 3,000 - the biggest increase since the outbreak. There are a total of 35,713 confirmed cases in the country, with more than 4,000 having successfully recovered. Lombardy, the worst-hit region,...( ) Read all
With hundreds of millions of people now isolating themselves around the world, the novel coronavirus pandemic has become a truly global event. And while its geopolitical implications should be considered secondary to matters of health and safety, those implications may, in the long term,...( ) Read all
The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) formed a majority in the Parliament of Moldova. It was unexpected, since the two parties were considered antagonists, if not totally, then at least in matters of the country's foreign policy....( ) Read all
Russian pro-Kremlin media have mounted a “significant disinformation campaign” to aggravate the coronavirus pandemic crisis in western countries by destroying confidence in the emergency response, according to an internal EU report.( ) Read all
The Irish prison service gave prisoners antiseptics for hands without alcohol, despite the fact that they are less effective against the coronavirus. And all because of antiseptics containing alcohol, prisoners use to brew “moonshine”, writes with reference to prison service of the...( ) Read all
The first human trial of a vaccine to protect against pandemic coronavirus has started in the US. Four patients received the jab at the Kaiser Permanente research facility in Seattle, Washington, reports the Associated Press news agency. The vaccine cannot cause Covid-19 but contains a...( ) Read all
Kristofer Hivju, best known for playing the formidable, bearded Tormund on “Game of Thrones,” is the latest actor to test positive for the coronavirus. Hivju revealed the diagnosis in an Instagram post, saying that he is currently self-quarantining with his family in Norway.( ) Read all
Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Quebec City, announced today that they have successfully produced a Virus-Like Particle (VLP) of the coronavirus just 20 days after obtaining the SARS-CoV-2 (virus causing the COVID-19 disease) gene. Production of the VLP is the first...( ) Read all
President Vladimir Putin has said the situation with the coronavirus in Russia is "under control". Borders are closed, mass gatherings have been banned and increasing restrictions have put in place to slow the spread of the virus.( ) Read all
Saudi Arabia's bloated budget means it's not really a low-cost producer. That's why any race to the bottom will be difficult to win. In a war of attrition, the winner isn’t the force with overwhelming power, but the one with the greatest capacity to sustain damage.( ) Read all