Ukrainian forces withdraw from key town of Avdiivka, where Russia has captured troops

(CNN) — According to the commander of the Southern Ukraine Army, Russia captured some Ukrainian soldiers during the withdrawal of Kiev forces from the key city of Avdiivka.

Ukraine announced its withdrawal from the city northwest of Donetsk on Friday following the deadliest fighting of the Russian war in Ukraine.

The move follows Moscow’s intensified attacks on the region in recent weeks, as Russia bombarded it with airstrikes and artillery and sent waves of ground attacks with armored vehicles and troops.

Oleksandr Tarnavsky, commander of southern Ukraine forces, said in a Telegram message on Friday that withdrawal from the city was “the only right solution”, adding that some soldiers were captured in the process.

He said, “In a situation where the enemy is advancing over the corpses of his own soldiers with a ten-to-one advantage in shells under constant bombardment, this is the only correct solution.” “The Russian troops are numerically superior in personnel, artillery and aviation,” Tarnavsky said.

Moscow’s forces have launched 20 airstrikes and more than 150 artillery strikes on the area in the past 24 hours, he said, adding that the Russians are “literally wiping the city off the face of the earth.”

The decision comes just days after Ukraine’s new military chief Oleksandr Sirsky and Defense Minister Rustam Umerov visited forward positions in Avdiivka and pledged to send additional troops to “prevent the enemy from advancing deeper.”

However, on Thursday Ukrainian forces fighting to capture the city described “hellish” conditions and the enemy “coming from all sides”.

Sirski said in a Facebook post on Friday that he ordered the withdrawal “to avoid encirclement and preserve the life and health of the army” and that he was transferring troops to defend “more favorable lines.”

Oleksandr Sirsky (Credit: Valentin Ogirenko/Reuters)

He added that Ukrainian troops “made every effort to destroy the best Russian military units and inflict significant losses on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment.”

Ukraine is “taking measures to stabilize the situation and maintain the situation,” he said, adding, “The lives of military personnel are most valuable.”

The commander of the Ukrainian 3rd Assault Brigade, which was sent to defend Avdiivka as one of Ukraine’s most battle-hardened units, said the withdrawal meant Ukrainian troops “can come back and attack even more.” can do.”

“I thank the command for its thoughtful decision,” Andrey Biletsky said in a Telegram post on Saturday. “I thank the troops for the brave battle they fought against the enemy at Avdiivka despite the Russians’ complete numerical superiority in men, equipment and shells,” he said.

The Russians also suffered heavy losses in their attack on Avdeevka, but Moscow appears to have calculated that, given their numerical advantage, they were worth it.

Undoubted blow to Ukraine

Ukraine’s withdrawal represents a solid gain for Moscow and is a sign of how the war has seemed to be turning in Putin’s favor in recent months.

The town is located just northwest of the city of Donetsk, under Russian control since 2014. Thus, the capture of Avdiivka makes Donetsk better defended and Ukraine more difficult to attack. There is also a huge coke plant on its outskirts, as well as a railway line passing through it, which could facilitate more efficient Russian supply lines.

His defeat is undoubtedly a blow to Ukraine.

A counter-offensive launched months ago with the aim of recapturing large swaths of territory has failed and the country is facing signs that once-strong Western support is waning, especially from its key ally the United States.

And with Ukraine lagging elsewhere on the front, Syrsky, the new head of the Ukrainian army, faces a major challenge in confronting Russia.

In October Moscow troops launched an offensive around Avdiivka. From then on, it became a point of intense fighting with Russian bombardment all the time and increasing numbers of troops and armored vehicles.

Russia concentrated its efforts on besieging Avdiivka and taking control of the surrounding areas.

A Ukrainian official, Serhiy Tsykhotsky, recently told Ukrainian television that Russia is deploying large numbers of troops to the battle for Avdiivka. He insisted that they were killing many people.

“They don’t forgive their people,” he said.

The Russian attack was similar to the “meat grinder” tactics used to capture Bakhmut the previous year, where a NATO source estimated that for every Ukrainian soldier killed, Russia had lost five.

However, Moscow’s advance at Avdiivka was slowed by Ukrainian troops, who were heavily concentrated in the area.

In November, CNN detailed how Ukrainian soldier Oleh Sentsov, formerly a renowned filmmaker, filmed a 5-hour battle at Avdiivka with helmet and body cameras, depicting the brutality of war and the horror of the trenches. He and his men found themselves fighting on all sides, trapped in a mass of Russian troops.

“Our assault group had to capture a gap 150 meters wide. We broke in, advanced 50 meters and could not advance because there was strong resistance from a large number of enemy infantry,” Sentsov said in a rare interview with CNN. “

Ukraine claims it has caused massive damage to Russian military personnel and equipment since the start of the renewed Russian offensive.

In December President Volodymyr Zelensky called the fighting in the city an “attack” and said the fighting could “in many ways determine the overall course of the war.”

front pressure

The capture of the city comes as Ukraine warned it faced a renewed Russian offensive across much of the front line, with intense fighting ongoing in the areas of Kharkiv and Luhansk in the north-east.

Moscow’s forces have not made much progress in that area, but Ukraine has been forced to abandon parts of the territory it recaptured in its successful advance in late summer 2022.

The latest wave of Russian attacks comes as Ukraine has also said it is facing a serious shortage of ammunition needed for its troops on the battlefield.

President Joe Biden’s national security adviser warned late last year: “We’re almost out of money and almost out of time.”

On February 7, amid a torrent of attacks on the bill from former President Donald Trump and top Republicans in the House of Representatives, Senate Republicans blocked a major bipartisan border agreement and foreign aid package with aid for Ukraine and Israel. The White House is making another effort to win congressional approval for military aid to Kiev, but it is unclear whether House Republicans, in particular, will support it.

Following Hamas’ attacks on Israel last year and the escalating conflict in the Middle East, there are concerns that Ukraine is losing importance on the West’s agenda.

Meanwhile, Zelensky announced the dismissal of Ukraine’s top commander, General Valery Zaluzny, in early February, the largest military restructuring since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion nearly two years ago.

Next month’s Russian elections provide even more incentive for Putin to achieve victory in Ukraine. The Kremlin leader is running for a fifth term and hopes to score a victory that would keep him in office until 2030.

Looking to 2024, NATO allies fear the Russian president will launch a broader offensive following his expected victory in his country’s presidential election in March, an election that outside observers consider a mere formality.

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