Three weeks after one of the fiercest battles in the Ukrainian war, residents of the embattled city of Debaltseve had described how dogs began to eat the corpses of fallen soldiers and citizens as they struggled to bury the dead.
The city lies in ruins after becoming the focus of intense fighting before and after the start of a ceasefire deal that was agreed between Russia, Ukraine and Western powers in mid-February.
For pro-Russian separatists, Debaltseve is a key link between the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, two rebel strongholds. Thus, in the month leading up the ceasefire, heavy gunfire and shelling became an everyday occurrence, as the separatists battled to take the city from pro-government forces.
Now, some three weeks after the rebels claimed victory, reports are emerging about the state of Debaltseve in the wake of the intense fighting, along with devastating stories about what it was like for residents during the four-week ordeal.
"So many corpses, dogs were gnawing those corpses," 62-year-old Nataliya Maslova told the Associated Press. "There was so little of it left you couldn't even bury them."
AP reporters who arrived in the city soon after it was captured by rebels said they saw uncovered bodies of Ukrainian solders lying on the roads and front gardens of people's homes.
Maslova added: "People were buried anywhere possible...in craters, on the streets, in the yards."
Maslova is one of six patients currently in the city's hospital. The good news is that the hospital reopened a week ago. The bad news is that it still has no water or central heating.
Maslova said her apartment block was hit by a shell and her windows were now shattered, the winter cold bringing on a case of bronchitis.
"We've seen a lot of fear," she said. "Everyone was gone. I was the only person left in our stairwell."
Huge blocks of flats lie deserted in the city and hundreds of people queue daily at one of the remaining grocery stores where rebels had out one loaf of bread per person.
Marina Trifonova, a nurse in the hospital who remained in Debaltseve during the fighting, told the AP, "Many have left. Some are returning, some aren't. I belong here."
Indeed, Debaltseve had a pre-war population of 25,000. Reports now suggest that number has shrunk to between 5,000 and 8,000.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
The AP reported that rebel emergency workers have been helping local residents with blankets, water and charging mobile phones since the city was captured on February 18.
The newly self-appointed mayor, Alexander Afendikov, told the AP that the Russian separatists were trying to return the city to normal life as quickly as possible, with priority given to rebuilding hospitals, schools and large apartment blocks.
At least 179 Ukrainian troops were killed in the battle for Debaltseve, as well as an untold number of civilians.
On Wednesday, NATO said that Russia was still arming and training rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, with the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calling on Vladimir Putin to respect last month's ceasefire by withdrawing all forces from the conflict.
Additional reporting by the APReuse content