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New York Times
17 Feb 2024
Constant Méheut

NextImg:What to Know About the Fall of Avdiivka

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the eastern frontline city of Avdiivka, Ukraine’s top general, Oleksandr Syrsky, said on Saturday, allowing Moscow to score its biggest battlefield victory in months and dealing a blow to Ukraine’s stretched and outgunned forces as the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion approaches.

General Syrsky said he had ordered the retreat “in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen.” Avdiivka — once a city of 30,000 people before being reduced to ruins — sat in a pocket surrounded by Russian troops to the north, east and south. In recent months, they had been slowly advancing through relentless assaults, in a pincer movement.

“The ability to save our people is the most important task for us,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said Saturday at the Munich Security Conference. He added that Ukrainian troops had been hindered by a shortage of ammunition because of declining Western military assistance.

Here’s what to know about the fall of Avdiivka.

How did the battle unfold?

Avdiivka is a suburb of the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, which has been on a front line since a Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014. The city held through eight years of often low-intensity war in the east and then nearly two years of full-scale assaults by the Russian Army after it launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The big offensive against Avdiivka began in October, with Russia launching several battalions against the edges of the city and shelling the area day and night. After being held on the outskirts of the city for months, Russian troops broke into residential areas in late January, bypassing Ukrainian fortifications by crawling through tunnels under the streets of the southeastern part of Avdiivka. Earlier this week, they cut off Ukraine’s main supply road into the city and then advanced near a coke plant that had been a bastion of resistance.

In keeping with Russia’s scorched-earth tactics in Ukraine, Moscow bombed the place to ruins and then sent in wave after wave of troops in assaults that left thousands of dead and wounded, according to military experts. Mr. Zelensky said on Saturday that for every Ukrainian soldier killed, seven Russian soldiers had been killed. His assertion could not be confirmed independently.

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