DEBALTSEVE, Ukraine – Trails of fire lit up the sky as rockets blazed towards their targets, bright flashes visible for miles around when they hit in the fading light. Fighting for Debaltseve’s strategic crossroads and rail junction grew ever more intense on Jan. 29, despite the declaration of a “humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to safely flee from a city that had 25,000 residents before the war.
Explosions could be heard thundering through the fields either side of the main road just minutes after a four-vehicle convoy – three coaches and one minibus packed with civilians – passed the last checkpoint on the outskirts. One driver had written “children” on the front of his vehicle in the hope that somehow it might help spare his precious cargo.
But as night closed in, many more residents discovered they had been left behind. A government-sponsored evacuation of the town, promised for 10 a.m., arrived at 3 p.m. with just three coaches. Shell-shocked civilians complained they had been abandoned without water, electricity or heating.
Others who chose to stay appeared to be hoping Ukraine’s army would be next to evacuate.
“What have Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk and Kyiv done but bring destruction on us,” said an aggressive old man with gold teeth, referring to the nation’s president and prime minister, seemingly oblivious to several explosions nearby as shells from Russian-backed fighters rained down.
“I can’t go anywhere, there are too many people already in those other places and no jobs.”
But Ukrainian forces show no signs of going anywhere.
Over the past week, Ukraine has strengthened its positions around Debaltseve, digging bunkers and positioning enormous self-propelled howitzers in the fields and villages around it – despite the threat of imminent encirclement from an enemy force that already controls the territory on three sides.
“The situation is stable. The shooting is intensive, but we are holding,” said one soldier, who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to press.
By Maxim Tucker – Kyiv Post –