NOVOKATERYNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — 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 Tuesday. Villagers said dozens of troops 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 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.
Moscow has stepped up its harsh rhetoric as well. A leaked revealed that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said President Vladimir Putin told him that Russia could take Kiev "in two weeks" if it wished.
President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders will be attending a summit Thursday in Wales to create a rapid-response military team to counter the Russian threat.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Moscow, said that a recent initiative by the Ukrainian government to shed the country's nonaligned status and join the military alliance could scuttle efforts to negotiate a peace settlement between Kiev and separatists in the country's southeast.
He added that hawkish rhetoric in the Ukrainian government, including talk Tuesday of a "Great Patriotic War" along the lines of World War II, was being "incited from Washington, some European capitals, and more and more often from Brussels and from NATO headquarters, where the North Atlantic alliance secretary-general gives statements with and without cause."
Meanwhile, Yuri Ushakov, Putin's foreign policy adviser, said the Russian leader's statement on Kiev was "taken out of context and carried a completely different meaning."
It was the first Kremlin response to the article, in which Barroso relayed Putin's response to his question of whether Russian troops had crossed into eastern Ukraine.
"That is not the question," Barroso said Putin told him. "But if I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks."
Following a month of setbacks in which government troops regained territory, the separatists have been successful in the last 10 days as columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles were seen crossing the border.
The smashed tanks, APCs and trucks seen Tuesday were part of a massive column that was 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 TVrn, who had the turret of a tank land beside his home.
Villagers and the separatists say the number of Ukrainian military dead was huge. The government has maintained a tight lid on the precise figure.
Tyrn said he believed more than 100 had died.
The war has left more than 2,500 people dead and forced at least 340,000 to flee.
It also has left Ukraine's economy in tatters. Ukraine might need billions in additional support if the fighting persists through next year, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday.
This report includes material from the New York Times.