Ukraine digs in to repel new Russia attacks in east after Avdiivka retreat

Ukraine digs in to repel new Russia attacks in east after Avdiivka retreat

Ukraine's military has said its troops have taken up new defensive positions in the east after retreating from the captured key town of Avdiivka, and were repelling Russian attempts to develop the offensive thrust.

Russia took full control of devastated Avdiivka after Kyiv‘s troops withdrew over the weekend, handing the Kremlin its biggest battlefield advance since capturing the city of Bakhmut in May.

Avdiivka’s fall was the clearest sign the tide of the war has turned in Russia’s favour as Kyiv struggles to regenerate manpower and US Republicans scupper attempts to rearm Washington’s ally, which is battling a much larger and better-armed foe.

“The Ukrainian military has established itself on new lines of defence and is successfully repelling attempts by the Russian invaders to develop an offensive,” Brigadier-General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi wrote on Telegram.

Russian forces were regrouping and searching for pockets of resistance in Avdiivka, while attacking near the occupied eastern town of Mariinka and near to a Kyiv-held southeastern village, Ukrainian military spokesperson Dmytro Lykhoviy said.

The capture of Avdiivka pushes Ukrainian forces further from the Russian-held bastion city of Donetsk, an important logistics hub used by Moscow to support its operations across partially occupied eastern Ukraine, known as the Donbas.

Serhiy Zgurets, director of the Kyiv-based Defence Express consultancy, predicted Russian forces would try to “straighten out” the frontline around Mariinka and launch a fresh push around the town of Vuhledar, which is held by Kyiv.

President Volodymyr Zelensky visits wounded soldiers (via Reuters)
President Volodymyr Zelensky visits wounded soldiers (via Reuters)

Mr Zgurets said Moscow forces had around 80,000 troops deployed around Bakhmut and a further 40,000 troops around Avdiivka and would likely try to push towards the town of Chasiv Yar.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has described the capture of Avdiivka as an important victory, and Moscow has said Kyiv’s pullback was chaotic and rushed, with some soldiers and weapons left behind.

“The withdrawal was prompted by the threat of an enemy breakthrough that would have cut all supply routes for the grouping in the eastern part of the Avdiivka,” Mr Zgurets said, adding that he believed the pullback was well executed.

Some troops from Ukraine's Third Assault Brigade, which was rushed into the town to reinforce Kyiv’s troops last week, were completely surrounded at one point, but managed to break out, their deputy commander, Maksym Zhoryn, said.

Pavel Mogila, commander of an armoured unit in a Russian militia force fighting for Ukraine, said they helped evacuate forces from the city using three vehicles.

“We were standing in the Lastochkyne area. If the Russians had neared the road, taken the tree lines around it, then that would have been it, the road would have been blockaded and Avdiivka fully surrounded.”

Andrii Taran, a commander in the 110th Brigade, said Russia had “exhausted” the defenders with constant attacks by small groups of three or four soldiers, while bombing with guided aerial bombs.

Oleh Zhdanov, a Kyiv-based military analyst, said: “Russia will most likely try to seize as much territory as possible in the near future, especially within the borders of those territories that Putin has declared to be Russian.”

Moscow unilaterally declared it had annexed the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in 2022 despite not fully controlling any of them.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited the northeastern part of the frontline and met troops fighting against invading forces. He reportedly paid a visit to the command post of the brigade that defends Kupiansk, a target of intensified Russian assault since mid-autumn. The town was liberated by Ukrainian forces in 2022 following its initial occupation by Russian troops after their full-scale invasion.

Ukraine’s military also said it had shot down two more Russian warplanes used to drop highly destructive guided aerial bombs on Kyiv’s troops, army chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said. The planes were an Su-34 fighter-bomber and an Su-35 fighter, but the location they were destroyed was not disclosed. At the weekend, Ukraine said it shot down three Russian Su-34s and one Su-35 in eastern skies.

“In just three days, the enemy lost six aircraft,” Oleksandr Pavliuk said.

US president Joe Biden said on Monday he is willing to meet with House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson to discuss a funding bill for Ukraine’s war against Russia, saying that Republicans are making a mistake by opposing the aid package.

The Senate in a bipartisan vote earlier this month passed a $95bn (£75bn) aid package that includes funds for Ukraine, but Mr Johnson so far has declined even to bring it up for a vote on the floor of the House, which Republicans control by a 219-212 margin. He has been demanding a meeting with Mr Biden.