Saturday, July 20

Avdiivka, long-time stronghold of Ukraine, falls to Russia

Avdiivka, long-time stronghold of Ukraine, falls to Russia

Ukraine ordered a complete withdrawal from the ruined town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine before dawn on Saturday, ceding a town that had been a military stronghold for nearly a decade, facing to the incessant bombings and assaults of the Russians.

“Based on the operational situation around Avdiivka, in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the life and health of servicemen, I decided to withdraw our units from the city and switch to defense on more favorable lines,” said General Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s military high command. commander, said in a statement issued overnight.

The fall of Avdiivka, a town that was once home to some 30,000 residents but is now a smoking ruin, is the first major gain by Russian forces since May last year. In recent weeks, Russian forces have intensified their attack along almost the entire length of the 600-mile front.

Ukrainian forces began withdrawing from their positions in the southern part of the city on Wednesday. They have been engaged in a desperate battle for several days to avoid encirclement inside the city, as Russian forces advanced in multiple directions.

Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, head of Ukrainian forces in the south, said there was no choice but to withdraw, given Russia’s advantage in firepower and the number of troops they were ready to send into battle.

“In a situation where the enemy is advancing on the corpses of its own soldiers with a 10-to-1 shell advantage, under constant bombardment, this is the only right solution,” he said in a statement .

Some soldiers privately expressed concern in interviews that the call to withdraw came too late, or posted Stark’s accounts on social media of their dangerous and chaotic retreat.

Viktor Biliak of the 110th Brigade, which has defended the city for two years, described Thursday its evacuation of the garrison known as Zenit, in a southern pocket of the city.

Mr. Biliak, who uses the call sign Hentai, said his unit did not have time to move out smoothly – neither to evacuate weapons and equipment, nor to burn papers and lay mines to attack Russian troops.

Ten men tried in vain to leave Wednesday evening, he said. They had to fight their way through a firefight, but then came under artillery fire.

“Only three injured people returned,” Hentai wrote on Instagram. He helped rescue one of the wounded the next morning, he said, a dangerous move in broad daylight that cost the unit four more wounded, including himself.

Troops made another attempt Thursday evening, and the seriously injured were asked to wait for an armored vehicle to pick them up.

“The groups were leaving one after the other,” Hentai wrote. Still able to walk, he decided not to wait for the evacuation vehicle and led a group out.

“There was no visibility outside. It was simply a question of survival. A kilometer across the field,” he wrote. “A gang of blind cats led by a drone. Enemy artillery. “The road to Avdiivka is littered with our corpses. »

The evacuation vehicle never came to pick up the injured, he said. The last group left the bunker and heard an injured soldier asking questions on the radio about the escape vehicle. The commander replied that no vehicles were arriving and that the wounded had to be left behind.

“He didn’t know he was talking to an injured man,” Hentai wrote. “This dialogue on the radio deeply hurt us. »

As the battle for Avdiivka intensified, Ukrainian commanders fighting in the region were forced to ration their ammunition, they said. White House officials relied on similar testimony to argue that Congress’s failure to pass a renewed $60 billion military aid package directly undermined the Ukrainian fight on the ground. The Ukrainian government is also struggling to recruit and mobilize soldiers to fill its depleted ranks after two years of often brutal fighting.

The town and surrounding communities have been on the front lines since Russian-backed militants seized territory in eastern Ukraine in 2014, but the Russians stepped up their efforts to take the town in October, launching large-scale assaults to largely encircle the area. Those attempts largely failed and resulted in some of the heaviest Russian casualties of the war, with tens of thousands of troops killed and wounded, according to the Ukrainian military as well as British and American officials.

Early this year, the Russians managed to break into the town of Avdiivka itself, and Ukrainian losses then began to increase significantly. At the same time, Russia intensified its bombing of the city, seeking to destroy Ukraine’s heavily fortified defenses.

As the situation became increasingly dire, military analysts inside and outside Ukraine feared that leaders were repeating a mistake of the past: hanging on when it was clear that the hope was lost and needlessly spend Ukraine’s most precious resource, its people.

The withdrawal from Avdiivka was still underway on Saturday morning under Russian bombardment. Ukraine’s military command said the withdrawal from the southern part of the city took place with “minor losses.”

But the soldiers posted videos on social media revealed how dangerous travel in the region had become. In one video, several Ukrainian soldiers climb atop an armored vehicle just 800 meters from the Avdiivka coke chemical plant on the city’s northwest edge, a landmark.

They pass the sign “Avdiivka is Ukraine” at the entrance to the town, made famous during the era of President Volodymyr Zelensky. posted a selfie video from there in December. Seconds later, the soldiers ducked and grimaced as the shells landed just meters away from them, sending up clouds of dust and dirt.

On Friday, the commander of the 2nd Mechanized Battalion of the Third Assault Brigade said the Russians used incendiary munitions to ignite the tanks storing dangerous fuel at the coking plant.

“By burning, this toxic substance has extremely serious consequences on the health and even on the lives of our fighters,” he said in a statement. The wind sent plumes of toxic black smog over the city and seeped into the factory, which the Ukrainians had long used as a bastion against Russian advances.

It was unclear Saturday morning whether Ukrainian troops holed up at the factory had also been withdrawn.

Volodymyr Furayev, a soldier stationed at the sprawling Soviet-era industrial plant, said his unit had been ordered to evacuate.

“I am leaving the coking plant,” Mr. Furayev said in a post on TikTok. “Everything is targeted. It’s hard to know where we’re going. Hello to everyone who knows me. “I don’t know if we’re going to make it.”

His and other accounts could not be independently confirmed, but the soldiers cited in this article are known to be members of the Ukrainian military with a public presence on social media, and the locations of the scenery shown in the videos were verified as being at Avdiivka by The New York Times.

Soldiers reached by phone Friday, who asked not to be identified given the ongoing military action, described a harrowing attempt to flee the city. They described running past destroyed buildings as shells thundered from everywhere and Russians pressed in from several directions.

“In one of the sectors of the city, the fighters of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade found themselves completely surrounded, but they tried to break through and they succeeded,” the major said. Rodion Kudryashov, deputy commander of the assault brigade, in an interview with Radio Liberty.

The 3rd Separate Assault Brigade was brought to Avdiivka about two weeks ago to help relieve the exhausted soldiers of the 110th Brigade.

Other units, including the 47th Brigade, equipped with U.S.-supplied Bradley Fighting Vehicles, reported that they had been tasked with blocking outlying areas to prevent a further Russian advance beyond Avdiivka .

“Avdiivka is a very important strong point in the Ukrainian defense system” because it protects Pokrovsk, about 30 miles to the northwest, a logistics hub for the Ukrainian army, says Mykola Bielieskov, a military analyst at the National Institute of strategic studies in Moscow. Ukraine said in an interview.

“Taking control of Avdiivka could create an opening for Russia,” he said.

Even if the lines stabilize after the Russians capture the city, their fall will allow the Russian army to move its troops and equipment more efficiently as it moves in other directions.

Alexandre Tchoubko contributed reporting from Kharkiv, Ukraine and Malachi Browne from Limerick, Ireland.