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Ukrainian troops routed as Russia talks tough

  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • EDS NOTE GRAPHIC CONTENT - A dead body of Ukrainian government soldier hung over an overhead high-voltage power line onto which he was seemingly flung when his armored personnel carriers was hit by a shell in the village of Novokaterynivka , eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    EDS NOTE GRAPHIC CONTENT - A dead body of Ukrainian government soldier hung over an overhead high-voltage power line onto which he was seemingly flung when his armored personnel carriers was hit by a shell in the village of Novokaterynivka , eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • Part of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are strewn near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Part of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are strewn near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • A Pro-Russian rebel prepares arms for the the assault on the positions of Ukrainian army in Donetsk airport, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Hours later, Ukraine said a border guard vessel operating in the Azov Sea was attacked by land-based forces. (AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov)

    A Pro-Russian rebel prepares arms for the the assault on the positions of Ukrainian army in Donetsk airport, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Hours later, Ukraine said a border guard vessel operating in the Azov Sea was attacked by land-based forces. (AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov)

  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • Remnants of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Remnants of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • A detainee held by Pro-Russian rebels lays bound meters away from a column of destroyed Ukranian military vehicles in the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    A detainee held by Pro-Russian rebels lays bound meters away from a column of destroyed Ukranian military vehicles in the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • A mother and child hide in a bomb shelter in Petrovskiy district in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. The Petrovskiy district of Donetsk is currently a frontline and one of the districts which suffered the most from the artillery fights between Ukrainian army and Pro-Pussian rebels. (AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov)

    A mother and child hide in a bomb shelter in Petrovskiy district in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. The Petrovskiy district of Donetsk is currently a frontline and one of the districts which suffered the most from the artillery fights between Ukrainian army and Pro-Pussian rebels. (AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov)

  • Pro-Russian rebels pass by destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Pro-Russian rebels pass by destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • Remnants of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Remnants of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • Ksenia Plyushch shows pieces of shrapnel to her mother in the village of Osykove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government troops since mid-April in a conflict that has left more than 2,500 people dead and forced at least 340,000 to flee. In the last week, the rebels have scored significant gains on the ground, launching a new offensive along the Sea of Azov coast. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Ksenia Plyushch shows pieces of shrapnel to her mother in the village of Osykove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government troops since mid-April in a conflict that has left more than 2,500 people dead and forced at least 340,000 to flee. In the last week, the rebels have scored significant gains on the ground, launching a new offensive along the Sea of Azov coast. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • Ksenia Plyushch, 7, and her brother Andrei, 10, collect pieces of shrapnel, as they play in shell crater in the village of Osykove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Ksenia Plyushch, 7, and her brother Andrei, 10, collect pieces of shrapnel, as they play in shell crater in the village of Osykove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • EDS NOTE GRAPHIC CONTENT - A dead body of Ukrainian government soldier hung over an overhead high-voltage power line onto which he was seemingly flung when his armored personnel carriers was hit by a shell in the village of Novokaterynivka , eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • Part of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are strewn near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • A Pro-Russian rebel prepares arms for the the assault on the positions of Ukrainian army in Donetsk airport, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Hours later, Ukraine said a border guard vessel operating in the Azov Sea was attacked by land-based forces. (AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov)
  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • A column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • Remnants of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles remain near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • A detainee held by Pro-Russian rebels lays bound meters away from a column of destroyed Ukranian military vehicles in the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • A mother and child hide in a bomb shelter in Petrovskiy district in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. The Petrovskiy district of Donetsk is currently a frontline and one of the districts which suffered the most from the artillery fights between Ukrainian army and Pro-Pussian rebels. (AP Photo/Mstislav Chernov)
  • Pro-Russian rebels pass by destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • Remnants of a column of destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles are abandoned near the village of Novokaterynivka, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • Ksenia Plyushch shows pieces of shrapnel to her mother in the village of Osykove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government troops since mid-April in a conflict that has left more than 2,500 people dead and forced at least 340,000 to flee. In the last week, the rebels have scored significant gains on the ground, launching a new offensive along the Sea of Azov coast. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • Ksenia Plyushch, 7, and her brother Andrei, 10, collect pieces of shrapnel, as they play in shell crater in the village of Osykove, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Ukrainian troops have over the past week suffered a string of major military losses in their offensive against Russian-backed separatist rebels, losing large swathes of territory and having hundreds of soldiers captured. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

The ferocity of the attack on the fleeing Ukrainian troops was clear, days after the ambush by Russian-backed separatist forces.

More than 30 military vehicles lay in charred piles yesterday. Villagers said dozens were killed, and some remained unburied. One soldier was blown out of his armored vehicle – apparently by a shell – his body left dangling from power lines high above.

The rout early Sunday near the village of Novokaterynivka marked a major intensification in the rebel offensive, one that the Ukrainian government, NATO and the United States say has been sustained by Russia’s direct military support.

Following a month of setbacks in which government troops regained territory, the separatists have been successful in the last 10 days just as columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles have been seen crossing the border.

The smashed tanks, APCs and trucks were part of a massive column fleeing after being encircled in the town of Ilovaisk, which the Ukrainian government was compelled to concede after weeks of battles. Judging by how close together the stricken vehicles were, the incoming fire was precise and intense.

“They were going to surrender, and they began to bomb them,” said Novokaterynivka resident Anatoly Tyrn, who had the turret of a tank land beside his home.

Ukrainian army personnel have been allowed to travel to Novokaterynivka, about 23 miles southeast of Donetsk, and surrounding rebel-held areas to retrieve their soldiers’ bodies.

Villagers and the separatists said the number of Ukrainian military dead was huge, although the government has maintained a tight lid on the precise figure.

Tyrn said he believed more than 100 had died. Various rebel fighters separately gave estimates, all ranging into the dozens. Associated Press reporters saw at least 11 bodies in the last two days, although it was clear that was only a portion of the overall toll. Most of the dead were removed Monday, the rebels said, although one was buried so shallow that the decaying remains were still visible.

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