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Ukraine says Debaltseve withdrawal 90 percent done, rebels shell village near key port city

  • Ukrainian troops push a car as tehy attempt to start it, outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell Wednesday to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the rebels reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    Ukrainian troops push a car as tehy attempt to start it, outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell Wednesday to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the rebels reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)  (The Associated Press)

  • Ukrainian troops gesture from a truck outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell Wednesday to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the rebels reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    Ukrainian troops gesture from a truck outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell Wednesday to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the rebels reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)  (The Associated Press)

  • Ukrainian troops ride on an armored vehicle outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while withdrawing from Debaltseve, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell Wednesday to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the rebels reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    Ukrainian troops ride on an armored vehicle outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while withdrawing from Debaltseve, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell Wednesday to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town. The Ukrainian president confirmed that he had ordered troops to pull out and the rebels reported taking hundreds of soldiers captive.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)  (The Associated Press)

A Ukrainian military spokesman says more than 90 percent of its forces have been withdrawn from the fiercely contested town of Debaltseve and its surroundings, but left unclear when the retreat might be completed.

Ukrainian forces began abandoning Debaltseve on Wednesday after weeks of heavy fighting against Russia-backed separatists. Control of the town is a significant strategic gain for the rebels because it is a railway junction and straddles the most direct route between Donetsk and Luhansk, the separatist region's two major cities.

The battle for Debaltseve had continued to rage despite a cease-fire that was called into effect on Sunday.

Military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh also said Thursday that rebels heavily shelled a village on the outskirts of the port city of Mariupol during the last day.