Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine have evacuated the city of Sloviansk, a crucial eastern stronghold, amid a large-scale offensive by the military.
Separatists said the “overwhelming numerical superiority” of the army had forced them to relocate to Kramatorsk.
Troops have hoisted the Ukrainian flag over Sloviansk’s council building, and officials said soldiers were mopping up the last outposts of rebel resistance.
Two smaller towns are also reported to have been retaken by government troops.
Ukrainian forces launched an offensive against the separatists this week after a 10-day ceasefire broke down.
The BBC’s David Stern in Kiev says the military’s capture of Sloviansk – where the eastern insurgency began in April – is a major victory for the government.
No will to fight
Both government officials and rebel leaders confirmed that the separatists had left Sloviansk.
Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said on a rebel website: “Due to the overwhelming numerical superiority of the enemy our men were forced to abandon their positions.”
Rebels were quoted as saying they had pulled back to the nearby city of Kramatorsk.
But witnesses reported seeing dozens of rebels abandoning checkpoints in Kramatorsk, apparently heading for the main city of Donetsk.
Rebel leaders were quoted as saying the decision to abandon Sloviansk was taken by Igor Strelkov, the military commander of the self-declared Donetsk Peoples’ Republic (DPR).
Mr Strelkov, whose real name is Igor Girkin, had pleaded for Russian intervention on Friday saying his men had lost the will to fight.
SOURCE: BBC News