Ukraine pulled thousands of troops out of an encircled town on Wednesday after a massive assault by pro-Russian rebels, who ignored a new ceasefire to seize the strategic railway junction.
The fall of the besieged town of Debaltseve was one of the worst defeats of the war for Ukraine's troops, who proved unable to stop an advance by Moscow-backed rebels fighting for territory the Kremlin calls "New Russia." President Petro Poroshenko told security chiefs on Wednesday night that six Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and more than 100 injured during the pullout from Debaltseve, according to the Interfax news agency.
Twenty-two Ukrainian soldiers had earlier been killed in the town in the past few days, the Ukrainian military high command said, with more than 150 wounded.
Poroshenko, who flew to the frontline, nevertheless tried to cast the battle in a positive light, saying that by holding out as long as they had, Ukraine's troops had exposed "the true face of the bandits and separatists who are supported by Russia".
The Ukrainian troops had held out for three days beyond the start of a Europe-brokered ceasefire, forcing the rebels to disavow the truce to pursue their advance on the town.
Ukrainian troops, their faces blackened, some in columns, some in cars, arrived in Artemivsk, about 20 miles north of Debaltseve in government-held territory.
Fighting did not halt with the retreat. A Reuters correspondent near Debaltseve saw black smoke rising over the town and heard loud blasts hours after the withdrawal began.