19 Feb 2015

Ukrainian troops bitter and angry after Debaltseve falls to rebels

Whatever the humiliation of Kiev and the west – there is still firing around Debaltseve this morning. Artillery, rockets and small arms.

Movement here is thwarted as rebel forces clear anti-tank mines from roads in the area.

But around Vuhlehirsk the artillery that was battling Debaltseve yesterday is silent this morning.

Along the road a sophisticated surface-to-air mobile missile launcher stands ready, dug in at the blasted ruins of a filling station. It is almost certainly Russian and by no means the only one we have seen in the region.

The rebels speak of 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed in the battle of Debaltseve – 49 more killed overnight and 50 injured. Such figures should be treated with great caution – though many will have died in the long, attritional struggle.

And Ukrainians are emerging as bitter, angry men. Many speak openly of betrayal, confused orders and tactics, and feeling sold down the river by Kiev and President Poroshenko.

Read more: Disputed Debaltseve: a ‘ceasefire’ with a soundtrack of shell fire

They talk of sustained, heavy and accurate artillery fire raining down on their positions in Debaltseve for days on end. You wonder how a rag-tag army of rebel coalmines suddenly got so professional in the art of artillery, if it all happened without official Muscovite assistance?

Whatever – it leaves Poroshenko battered politically and militarily. It demands some kind of response from the west, from arms through to the UN.

Any UN force will fare no better here than the hapless OSCE peace monitors, turned away by rebels from roadblocks on a daily basis.

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