Ukrainian troops pulled out of the embattled rail hub of Debaltseve on Wednesday after it fell to Russia-backed separatists.
Armored personnel carriers and minibuses carrying Ukrainian soldiers were seen arriving in the city of Artemivsk after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered the troops to leave.
Some soldiers, unshaven and visibly upset, arrived in Artemvisk on foot.
Poroshenko, who decorated some soldiers on their return from Debaltseve, sought to portray the withdrawal as a tactical decision that “laid shame on Russia.”
He denied reports of large Ukrainian casualties and rebel claims of many soldiers captured, saying troops were leaving Debaltseve with their weapons and ammunition.
He also said the army had withdrawn 80 percent of its troops from the town by Wednesday morning and two more columns had yet to leave.
A volunteer battalion commander and a member of the Ukrainian parliament was highly critical of the government’s decision to retreat saying in a statement that 167 injured soldiers had been evacuated from Debaltseve. He mentioned a high death toll and said some bodies had been left behind but did not give specific numbers.
The fierce fighting around Debaltseve, which links the two major separatist cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, had raged on despite a ceasefire deal brokered by European leaders which took effect on Sunday.
Report from The Associated Press