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MOSCOW, February 19. /TASS/. Up to 3,500 Kiev servicemen trapped in the Debaltsevo pocket in eastern Ukraine have been killed, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic said on Thursday.
"We have completed an operation on clearing Debaltsevo," Alexander Zakharchenko was quoted by the Donetsk news agency as saying. "Unfortunately, Ukrainian authorities have failed to listen to reason and lay down arms," he said.
"The losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the pocket are estimated at around 3,000-3,500," Zakharchenko said.
The process of handing over the bodies of the killed troops to Kiev is due to begin later on Thursday, he said.
"Let Kiev take its killed men. We had invited there the parents and mothers to take their military with them. They were alive then," Zakharchenko stressed.
He added that the Donetsk republic’s authorities have plans to release those who have rendered themselves prisoners of war.
"Now we will hand over the prisoners of war who have already surrendered and continue surrendering," he said.
At a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said a total of 2,475 Ukrainian military and almost 200 vehicles and pieces of army hardware had been withdrawn from Debaltsevo.
Poroshenko added that six servicemen had been killed and more than a hundred had been wounded.
Debaltsevo is a city 70 kilometers away from Donetsk in the east of Ukraine and a major railway hub connecting Luhansk and Donetsk. Heavy fighting has been taking place in Debaltsevo in the past few days amid controversial reports of around 5,000 servicemen being trapped in a pocket by the militia forces.