Pro-Russian rebels repeatedly launched missiles and grenades at Ukrainian soldiers as they retreated from the key strategic town of Debaltseve, according to reports from the frontline.
News agency AFP released footage reporting to show rebels loyal to the Russian Federation firing multiple rocket launchers as Ukrainian forces retreated on foot and by truck from the battleground near the besieged town.
That report was backed up by an interview given by a retreating Ukrainian soldier who said he and his men had to run a gauntlet of fire as they left Debaltseve and travelled to the safety of Artemivsk, some 50km away.
The soldier told Al Jazeera, "There are no words to describe it. Along the entire way we were blanketed with shots. They fired at us with machine guns and grenade launchers. They used everything.
"We left Debaltseve around 5am (on Wednesday) and until this morning we were constantly under targeted fire."
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Army, said on Thursday that at least 2,745 soldiers had left Debaltseve, with 14 deaths in the last 24 hours. 172 more were wounded and 82 soldiers were still missing.
He added that Ukrainian Armed Forces had repelled insurgents near Pisky and that Ukrainian positions near Shyrokine had been attacked.
He said that insurgents had violated the ceasefire 253 times from the moment of its introduction and the every Ukrainian soldier has been shelled on average with around 580kg of "deadly metal" during the battle for Debaltseve.
Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesperson for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, told The Independent that at different times on Wednesday their monitors did hear shelling in the area of Debaltseve, but they could not confirm who was firing as they were not able to access the area.
"We require unfettered and safe and secure access, but the sides did could not guarantee security for us and did not provide access," Bociurkiw said.
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
Debaltseve, a key strategic town, has witnessed heavy fighting since a ceasefire in the region began at the weekend, with the Russian separatists claiming that the true did not apply to the railway hub.
The president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, argued that the fall of the town was carried out "in a planned and organized manner" as he attempted to cling to any benefits from the retreat.
However, reports continue to suggest that exhausted, dirty Ukrainian soldiers suffered heavy losses during the retreat and that many had to leave the town on foot.
Other reports suggested that the Ukrainians could not get water or food amidst the shelling.
Poroshenko claimed his forces had fulfilled their duty in defending the town and called for UN peacekeepers to monitor the ceasefire in the east of the country.
Additional reporting by the APReuse content