Ukrainian servicemen hug outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015.(AP/Vadim Ghirda)
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Ukraine pulled thousands of troops out of an encircled town Wednesday after a massive assault by pro-Russian rebels, who ignored a new cease-fire 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, unable to stop an advance by Moscow-backed rebels fighting for territory which the Kremlin calls "New Russia". Twenty-two Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the town in the past few days, the Ukrainian military high command said, with more than 150 wounded. The rebels said 153 Ukrainian soldiers had given themselves up.The Ukrainian troops had held out for three days beyond the start of a Europe-brokered cease-fire, forcing the rebels to disavow the truce to advance on the town.The rebels say the cease-fire, negotiated by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France at a summit in Minsk, Belarus, last week, never applied to Debaltseve, which links the two rebel-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk.For Poroshenko, the retreat may have saved the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers.
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