KIEV, Ukraine — Insurgents bade tearful farewells Wednesday as they loaded their families onto Russia-bound buses and began hunkering down for what could be the next phase in Ukraine's conflict: bloody urban warfare.
Although the pro-Russian rebels in the east have lost ground in recent weeks and were driven from their stronghold of Slovyansk, many have regrouped in Donetsk, an industrial city that had a population of 1 million before tens of thousands of civilians fled for fear of a government siege. The rebels also hold the city of Luhansk, where they are said to be taking up positions in residential and industrial zones.
Despite the government's desire to minimize civilian casualties, Ukraine's battle to hold the country together could lead its forces to find themselves dragged into grueling warfare inside the cities.
Insurgents in Donetsk appeared to be bracing for a bitter fight as they shipped their relatives out of the city.
One fighter, who declined to give his name, told the Associated Press that not having his wife and young daughter with him would free him to focus on the battles.
"It is easier for us this way. It is easier to fight. Your soul is not ripped into two because when they're here, you think about war and about your family — if they are okay or not," he said. "When you know that they are safe, it is easier to go to fight."