Outgoing heavy-caliber fire boomed consistently, rattling windows and shaking the ground around the besieged town. Residents of Debaltseve, seemingly inured to the racket, listened impassively as they mustered at the town hall on Saturday to be evacuated with as many belongings as they could take with them. Associated Press reports:
The government-held town has been without power, water and gas for at least 10 days, prompting many to flee from an intense artillery duel between government and Russian-backed separatist forces. Almost every one of the largely deserted streets in the center showed signs of having been struck by projectiles.
A month of relative quiet in eastern Ukraine was shattered in early January by full-blown fighting as the separatists attempted to claw back additional territory from government hands. Rebel leaders accused Ukraine of mobilizing its forces in advance of an imminent offensive.
Efforts to hold talks on halting the escalating violence have to date been unsuccessful.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a telephone conversation, all expressed hope that negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, will focus on a cease-fire and pulling out heavy weaponry from residential areas, the Kremlin said.