Ukrainian government forces are encircled in the eastern town of Debaltseve, a strategic railway hub. They’re sandwiched between rebel positions and are being pounded by shelling.
The fighting means a Euoropean-brokered peace deal — that included Russian-President Vladimir Putin – is on the verge of collapse, just one day after a ceasefire took effect.
(SOUNDBITE) (Ukrainian) UKRAINIAN SOLDIER, AKHMET, SAYING: “The shelling does not stop. And although Putin said there is a ceasefire, it does not make any sense….We don’t’ know ourselves what is going to happen. I have to run as there is not much time left.”
The fighting in Ukraine subsided in many parts of the east after the ceasefire began. But in Debaltseve, where most of the intense fighting has taken place in recent weeks — the truce appears to be stillborn.
Rebels have been advancing on the town since January and say they have no intention of observing the truce.
(SOUNDBITE) (Russian) REBEL, NOM DE GUERRE “SCORPION”, SAYING: “Debaltseve is our land. It is not Ukrainian. And we will take it as it is our land and it is our people there.
People do not want to live with the authorities who came there and which is imposing their will on them.”
Instead, separatists surrounding Debaltseve offered government troops a safe corridor to — quote — “get out of here” … a proposal the government rejected.
Under the peace deal, government forces were to pull back heavy weapons from the front-line – something Ukraine says it won’t do as long as this fragile truce is violated.