Ukraine war: Russia attacks Avdiivka stronghold in eastern Ukraine

Ukraine's President Zelensky has shared pictures showing soldiers in Avdiivka
Image caption,Ukraine’s President Zelensky has shared pictures showing soldiers in Avdiivka

Russian troops have launched a major offensive on the town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine. Three battalions involving some 2,000 troops, dozens of armoured vehicles as well as jets have been reportedly involved in what is described as the largest-scale attack in this area.

The General Staff of Ukraine says they have managed to repel dozens of attacks in Avdiivka and nearby areas since Tuesday.

“They launched their offensive on a wide front,” Serhiy Tsekhovsky, an officer from the 59th brigade, told the BBC.

“Since the beginning of the invasion, we haven’t dealt with such an intensive attack [in the area near Avdiivka]. They are using multiple rocket launchers, artillery, tanks and infantry – all at the same time.”

Avdiivka is described as a gateway to the city of Donetsk, the capital of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Although Russia and its proxy forces have occupied Donetsk city since 2014, they have been unable to use its resources as a key military communications hub because it is too close to the front line. By capturing Avdiivka, the occupying force could push the front line away.

But Avdiivka is important not just because of its strategic role. This town has been right on the front line since Moscow annexed Crimea nine years ago and the conflict in eastern Ukraine began.

As a result, the town of Avdiivka has turned into a symbol of Ukrainian resistance and resilience.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has shared photos of Avdiivka on social media saying: “We are holding our ground. It is Ukrainian courage and unity that will determine how this war will end.”

Military positions and residential areas of Avdiivka have been relentlessly pummelled for the last three days.

Another image from President Zelensky's social media feed showed rubble in a playground in Avdiivka
Image caption,Another image from President Zelensky’s social media feed showed rubble in a playground in Avdiivka

“On average, there are 50-60 instances of intense shelling with artillery and rockets targeting the town,” says Vitaliy Barabash, the head of Avdiivka’s military administration. “As for military positions, they get hit at least 500-600 times a day.”

Apartment blocks, office buildings and a hospital have been damaged, he complains.

“The firing doesn’t stop,” he adds. “There were about 20 air strikes yesterday during the day time. At night, 12 KAB-500 bombs were dropped on the town.” The BBC cannot verify his comments.

Some 1,600 residents remain in Avdiivka. Most of them moved into basements long ago, but they don’t always provide good protection.

According to Mr Barabash, as a result of the latest attacks, one person was killed and at least two more are feared dead under the rubble.

Russian attempts to move forward appear to be aimed at seizing the villages of Berdyche and Stepove to the north of Avdiivka and the villages of Tonenke and Severne to the south.

Moscow asserts that its troops have “improved their positions” near Avdiivka and Russian military bloggers report that Russian forces have taken some strategic positions belonging to Ukrainians and already entered Stepove.

Ukraine’s military denies those reports but these intense battles suggest that Russia is trying to encircle the city of Avdiivka by pushing from the north and the south.

The town has been well fortified and protected since 2014, making a Russian breakthrough inside Avdiivka much harder. For that reason they are trying to cut it off from the rest of Ukrainian-controlled territories and encircle it.

Russia has launched massive attacks along other parts of the front line in eastern Ukraine. Its forces are pushing in the direction of Kupyansk in Kharkiv region and Lyman in Donetsk region.

Analysts from the Institute of Study of War argue that these operations in Avdiivka and other parts of the Donbas are aimed at fixing Ukrainian forces to “prevent them from redeploying to other areas”, particularly to Zaporizhzhia region further west where Ukraine is making a slow progress.

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