Ukrainian troops began withdrawing on Wednesday under intense artillery fire, allowing rebel forces to seize control of the key rail hub that links their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.
After weeks of bitter fighting, troops loyal to Kiev have pulled out of the strategic eastern town of Debaltseve. FRANCE 24’s reporters were there to witness Ukraine's defeat.
The battle for Debaltseve had continued to rage despite a ceasefire negotiated last week by France, Germany and Russia, which was supposed to come into effect on Sunday.
Staff at a local morgue said they received the bodies of more than 200 soldiers and civilians killed in the last few days, their corpses piled up on the floor for want of space.
The surviving troops expressed relief at escaping alive, though some accused the army’s high command of abandoning them to their fate.
“What went wrong here was down to the incompetence of the sector’s senior leadership and the carelessness of officers higher up,” said one Ukrainian soldier, drawing up plans for a new line of defence.
Despite their latest strategic and symbolic defeat, the fighters of Ukraine’s 25th battalion insist they have lost a battle but not the war.
Click on the player above to watch the full report by Luke Brown, Mayssa Awad and Romeo Langlois.