KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Wednesday the country's forces were carrying out a "planned and organized" departure from the town of Debaltseve which has been under siege by Russian-backed separatists for weeks.
Speaking from a snowy airfield in Kiev before leaving for the front lines, Poroshenko praised Ukrainian forces for fulfilling their duty in defending Debaltseve.
He said they had shown the world "the true face of the bandits and separatists who are supported by Russia."
Poroshenko said 80 percent of forces had been withdrawn from Debaltseve with their weapons and another two columns were expected to leave.
Poroshenko gave the order to Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the town, a strategic rail junction in eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday night after, he said, international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had been stopped by separatists from entering the town.
Despite what he described as heavy artillery attacks, the number of wounded on the Ukrainian side during the operation was only 30, he said.
Praising Ukrainian forces for "really socking it" to the separatists forces who had tried to encircle them, he said he was going to the front "for the great honor of shaking hands with our heroes."
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)