Their chief commander President Petro Poroshenko claimed that he personally gave an order to soldiers to retreat the night before, on Feb. 17. But soldiers said they were leaving anyway.
“If we stayed there it would definitely be either captivity or death," Yuriy Prekharia, first lieutenant of the 40th Brigade, told the Kyiv Post.
Prekharia, 37, who served by the village of Novohryhorivka just north of Debaltseve, said the decision to leave was taken by the officers on the ground, in coordination with units nearby. They waited until all the Ukrainian troops in Debaltseve were prepared to leave their positions along with them, and started moving at night.
Prekharia led his 50 soldiers on foot through the fields and forests along a secret way, bypassing the redoubts of separatists and mines.