A fighter with the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Army sits at a checkpoint on the road from the town of Vuhlehirsk to Debaltseve February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
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After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell Wednesday to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the rebels reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive.Associated Press reporters saw several dozen Ukrainian troops retreating with their weapons Wednesday morning from the town in eastern Ukraine, covered in dirt and looking exhausted. Despite reports of Ukrainian forces giving up the fight for Debaltseve, rebel artillery and rocket fire were still being shot at the town at regular intervals Wednesday.Russia has denied supplying the separatists with troops and weapons, a claim scoffed at by Western nations and Ukraine, who point to NATO satellite pictures of Russian weapons in eastern Ukraine.Some retreating troops said Wednesday they had not received any reinforcements in Debaltseve from the government and had been walking for a whole day. One Ukrainian soldier who introduced himself only as Nikolai said he was not even sure if his unit was retreating or being rotated elsewhere.
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