Several Ukrainian government soldiers have been ambushed and taken prisoners in Debaltseve, the defense ministry said Tuesday, but denied rebel claims that they have seized control of the key transportation hub.
The ministry said street fighting continued in Debaltseve, which has been the epicenter of fighting in the past two weeks. It did not say how many soldiers had been seized in the ambush.
The Ukrainian presidential office earlier Tuesday called on the European Union and NATO to condemn the Russia-backed rebels for violating the cease-fire brokered by European leaders last week.
Russian news agencies quoted Valery Chaly, chief of the Ukrainian presidential administration, as saying that Kiev wants the EU and NATO to “resolutely condemn” the separatists for violating the deals.
The war in eastern Ukraine has already killed more than 5,600 people and displaced more than a million, the United Nations said on Monday. It has also left the country’s industrial heartland in ruins.
The government troops and rebels faced a deadline Tuesday to start pulling back heavy weapons from the front line.
Rebel commander Vladimir Kononov said on Russian television that most of Debaltseve was under their control and urged the Ukrainian troops to surrender.
“Their only choice is to leave behind weaponry, lay down arms and surrender,” he said.
The announcement by the rebels came after fierce fighting that appeared to be focused on Debaltseve. Both sides in the conflict claim the town is on their side of the cease-fire line. The issue was not resolved under the cease-fire agreement negotiated last week by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.