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February 2015



“…Desperate run to safety…” — ©

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О выходе украинских войск из Дебальцево..

ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine — When the order to retreat came over the radio Wednesday, most of the Ukrainian troops under siege in Debaltseve abandoned their heavy weapons, blew up their ammunition, and then fled in convoys of trucks as pro-Russian forces shot at them along the way.

But for Ilya Andrushko, one of about 30 members of Ukraine’s Lviv battalion, the only way to escape was on foot.

“We didn’t have a chance to think about the order when it came,” said Andrushko, 33. “We ran through the fields and the forests on foot, for about five kilometers. Then we just hitchhiked in whatever military vehicles would pick us up.”

After weeks under siege, nearly surrounded by rebels and calling for reinforcements that never came, they were already on the brink of collapse. They were almost out of food and water and were running out of ammunition.

Charged since mid-January with protecting the outskirts of the strategic rail town of Debaltseve, the battalion was facing the worst fighting in the Ukraine war’s hottest zone — without a commander. He abandoned them about a week ago, they said, and was blown up by a roadside bomb while fleeing.
It took them over four hours to cover the first 10 miles from Debaltseve to Svitlodarsk, the terminus for emergency and military vehicles shuttling soldiers, particularly the wounded, back to the base and the trauma hospital in Artemivsk, 20 more miles up the road.

By Wednesday afternoon, Andrushko and most of his fellow soldiers were squeezed into several rooms at the Hotel Ukraina in downtown Artemivsk, where, clearly rattled, they paced the halls, waiting for news from the rest of their team.

“We left everything in Debaltseve. We just came out with the clothes on our backs,” said Andrushko, shirtless except for a handgun he kept holstered to his chest. A few moments later, he wriggled out of his pants as well, handing them to his friend Volodymyr Trukhan, 29, whose only pair was ruined in the escape.

Standing in the hotel’s second-floor lobby wearing justhis underwear — and his handgun — Andrushko threw back his shoulders, puffed out his chest and yelled to his friend Roman, who was nursing a concussion: “Who are we?”

Andrushko and Roman roared in unison: “Lions!” — the symbol of their battalion, also tattooed on Andrushko’s chest.
Wednesday’s overnight retreat from Debaltseve left the soldiers physically exhausted and mentally torn. While the retreat was necessary, it was also late in coming, the soldiers said.

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