Trapped and left for dead, Ukrainian soldiers in Avdiivka exchange desperate messages

(CNN) — Avdeevka was on the front lines of the war between Kiev and Moscow for almost a decade. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, fierce fighting raged there for months.

The retreat was very short and long. When the Ukrainian army left the city this Saturday, handing Russia its most significant victory in many months, it was swift and brutal.

“Leave the 300 (injured),” one soldier was reportedly ordered, “and burn everything.”

Hours after Russian troops raised their flag on Avdeevka, a horrific story emerged of several wounded soldiers who failed to escape and were killed when Russian troops reached their positions.

The Ukrainian soldiers there were part of the 110th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which captured a position called Zenit. Last week, as Russian forces advanced on Avdiivka, Zenit came under intense attack.

The soldiers stationed there made desperate attempts to escape the ruins of the city, according to Victor Bilyak, one of the soldiers stationed there. In a long and typically bleak Instagram post, Biliak described the dangerous path that awaited him.

He wrote, “There was no visibility outside. It was just a matter of survival. A kilometer into the countryside. A group of blind kittens guided by drones. Enemy artillery. The road to Avdiivka was littered with Ukrainian corpses.”

Finally, a commander informed them by radio that the wounded would not be evacuated. Six men were left behind. The messages they left were difficult to read, Biliak said.

He said, “Their despair, their fall. It will always be with us. The bravest are those who die.”

abandoned soldier

Avdiivka has been on the front lines since pro-Moscow separatists seized control of large parts of the Donbass region, including the city of Donetsk, in 2014. Years of fighting have turned the city into a heavily fortified citadel, one in which they were built last. eight years.

However, with the Ukrainian army under pressure at many points on the front line and facing shortages of ammunition and personnel, the Russian army may sense an opportunity. They bombarded the area with air and artillery attacks before intensifying the ground attack.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces decided to abandon the city, giving Russia its most significant victory since capturing the city of Bakhmut last year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the decision to withdraw was made to “save the lives of our soldiers”.

Among those trapped and surrounded was Ivan Zytnik, a 30-year-old junior sergeant and combat medic from the Dnipro region, identified as “Django”. It, like the 110th Brigade, had been fighting at Avdiivka for almost two years.

He was seriously injured and was unable to move.

On Thursday, he was able to contact his sister Kateryna and other family members in an emotional video call, which has since received wide coverage in Ukrainian media.

Katerina asks her brother: “So what, they… no one is coming? Are your boys there too (with you) or are you alone?”

Zytnik replied: “Everyone left, everyone retreated. They told us that a car would take us away. Two of my legs are broken, there are shrapnel in my back. I can’t do anything…”

He said that there were half a dozen soldiers in the Zenit position, four of whom, like Zytnik, could not move.

Katrina replies, “I don’t know how…who to call,” she says, crying. “I don’t understand, who will pick you up?”

Nobody did this.

Ukrainian journalists contributing to later spoke to relatives of three Ukrainians who were injured in the situation.

Katerina told “They were waiting for the (evacuation) vehicle for a day and a half. And when they found out that no one was coming to pick them up, they started calling everyone. When Ivan Called me, he was in a lot of pain, I “They had given him everything they had left, but they were running out of medicines and food.”

Later on Thursday, another family member contacted Zytnik via video conference, according to Katrina.

“My brother said the command agreed to let the Russians take them out because our people wouldn’t be able to reach them,” Katerina said. As they were talking, he said, video showed Russian soldiers entering the area where the men were trapped.

CNN has not seen that video.

Another of the soldiers trapped aboard the Zenit was Andrey Dubnitsky. His wife Lyudmila told, “We talked at 10 in the morning (on Thursday). His back hurt, he was staggering, he was trying to joke, he started crying. Then We messaged each other…”

“The last message was at 12 o’clock that he would be captured,” he said.

“Mom, I am a warrior”

A Russian military blogger published a video this Friday showing the bodies of several soldiers. In the video, the emblem of the 1st Slavic Brigade of the Russian Army appeared, which, according to numerous testimonies, entered the Zenit area south of Avdeevka two days ago.

The video’s text said it was recorded on Friday in “the premises of a military unit” in Avdiivka. He refers to the Ukrainian soldiers present there as Nazis and says, “Only death awaits them on our land.”

When the Russians evacuated them from the Zenit position, Katarina recognized her brother’s body by his clothes and the water bottle he was holding.

Soldier Bilyak, who posted his story on Instagram, recognized Andrey Dubnitsky because he had a cross-shaped tattoo on his arm.

Dubnitsky’s wife Lyudmila also received this video late at night. He said, “I found this video at 10.30 pm, I recognized him by his tattoo.”

“He was called up on March 8, 2022, and since then he was in Avdiivka all the time… My daughter was 4 months old when he was activated,” he told

The mother of another soldier made the same horrifying discovery.

Heorhi Pavlov, identified as “Panda”, according to his mother Inna, had been a contract soldier since 2015 and had been serving at a Zenit post since last year.

“They waited for three days for the (evacuation) car,” he said.

“On the 14th he was wounded, with shrapnel on his back… I begged him a lot, son, give up, I want you alive. He has a small child, 5 years old.”

“He said: Mom, I’m a warrior,” Inna told

“I would like to believe that he is alive. Now I just want to find my son,” he said this Friday.

A few hours later, he recognized his son’s body in the same Russian video.

The 110th Brigade told CNN it could not confirm any details of the incident and was trying to verify what happened.

A well-known Ukrainian military blogger, Yuri Butusov, has published the names of six soldiers left at the Zenit post.

Butusov said, “These wounded were unable to walk on their own, and there were no evacuation vehicles available to transport them. With Zenit being completely surrounded, no vehicles could pass by to evacuate them. “

It is not known how the soldiers died, but Butusov claimed that Russian forces “killed helpless unarmed wounded, who were captured and could not move.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said an investigation had been launched into the case of the injured soldiers for “violations of the laws and customs of war with premeditated murder”.

In a statement released on Monday, the 110th Separate Mechanized Brigade said it attempted to negotiate with Russian forces to evacuate wounded soldiers from the Zenit position after it was completely surrounded.

“They agreed to evacuate our wounded and provide them with aid and later exchange them (for other prisoners of war). Our soldiers were ordered to save their lives,” the statement said.

The brigade later learned from videos released by the Russian military that its soldiers had been killed.

“War is cruel and we are fighting for freedom at a high price,” the statement concluded.

CNN has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on the allegations against Russian forces in Avdiivka.

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