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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’armée ukrainienne fuit la ville de Debaltseve

by Gaël de Santis

Ukrainian Army Flees Debaltseve

Translated Tuesday 24 February 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

The Ukrainian paramilitary forces and army began evacuating Debaltseve, in the eastern Ukraine, on the morning of Feb. 18.

This city, a rail hub, was isolated within the territory controlled by the insurgents. It was a strategic target for the insurgents. Indeed, its control would permit traffic between Lugansk and Donetsk, the two capitals of the self-proclaimed republics.

“This morning, the Ukrainian armed forces and the national guard accomplished the planned and organized evacuation operation of our military units in Debaltseve,” the head of state, Petro Poroshenko, said officially in an address to the nation on Feb. 18. “At present, 80% of our units have got out, and we are still awaiting two convoys,” he pointed out.

According to the Agence France Presse journalists on the spot on the morning of Feb. 18, dozens of tanks and light armored vehicles and military vehicles had been leaving the city. They arrived in Artemisvsk late in the morning on Feb. 17; 35 km away, visibly tired. “In Debaltseve, direct combat (…) took place,” Ilya Kiva reported for the Ukrainian television network, 122. “Everything is now being done to free up our forces.”

Despite the signing of a cease-fire between the insurgents and the Ukrainian army on Feb. 12, and its coming into force on Feb. 15, the fighting around Debaltseve never really stopped. During the talks in Minsk, before the signing of an accord, the question of Debaltseve was the main point of disagreement between the separatists and the Kiev authorities. The Kiev authorities felt that this city was part of the territory on which they had established their sovereignty. This development on the ground demonstrates the urgency of quickly opening negotiations on the status to be granted to the self-proclaimed republics.

The Minsk accord “is not dead,” according to Stéphane Le Foll.

While awaiting future developments and the agreed withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front, there is to be another telephone conversation among French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. On Feb. 18, Berlin condemned the insurgents’ operations, seeing in the seizure of Debaltseve an operation that is “harmful for hopes of peace.”

For his part, French government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll believed that the accord signed on Feb. 12 is “not dead” and repeated that France, like Germany, favored “diplomacy.”

In conformity with the Minsk accord, the rebels stated on Feb. 18 that they had begun withdrawing their artillery from the zones under their control in areas where fighting had stopped, the Russian press agency Interfax reported.

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