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Ukraine's President Appeals For U.N. Help To Maintain Truce

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The separatists in eastern Ukraine are trying to link bits of territory they control. With the help of their Russian allies, they've been driving toward a strategic town, Debaltseve, a railway hub linking other cities they already hold. Ukrainian government troops have been forced to withdraw. And all this has happened days after the latest cease-fire in Ukraine. We reach reporter Alec Luhn near the front line. Good morning.

ALEC LUHN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So you have spoken, I gather, to some of the Ukrainian soldiers who fled Debaltseve. What did they say they experienced over these past days?

LUHN: I just spoke to a group of Ukrainian soldiers, about 50 of them who had just come out of Debaltseve. They said that last night, they lit their fires to make it appear that they were still there and snuck around the rebel forces that had encircled them there. They just made it out without any casualties. Meanwhile, others have described much harder escapes from the town. I spoke to one man yesterday. He had come to the hospital with a foot wound. And he said that his unit, while they were withdrawing from Debaltseve, had been ambushed twice, had been shot at with mortars, with artillery. They did have wounded and killed. So so far, the casualty numbers haven't been huge. But it's definitely the case that at least 23 Ukrainian troops were killed yesterday. The wounded estimate is about 150, 160.

MONTAGNE: Now, Ukraine's president is talking about the need for international peacekeepers. How would that fit into this situation?

LUHN: Well, that would be a big step towards making this cease-fire a reality. Ever since the cease-fire came into effect a minute after midnight on Sunday, it hasn't really been observed. Even today, on the road - we were just at the Ukrainian front lines. We heard outgoing artillery. We also spoke with soldiers who said that overnight, they had been shelled from rebel positions. So something like international peacekeepers would go a long way towards making sure that both sides are obeying the cease-fire.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. That is reporter Alec Luhn on the ground in eastern Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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