Russia says it has taken Avdiivka after Ukrainian troops withdrew

17 February 2024, 20:24

Russia Ukraine War
Russia Ukraine War. Picture: PA

The timing is critical as Russia is looking for a morale boost ahead of the second anniversary on February 24 of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russian forces have taken complete control of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told the Kremlin that Russian forces were now working to clear the final pockets of resistance at the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, officials said in a statement.

Videos on social media appeared to show soldiers raising the Russian flag over one of the plant’s buildings.

The announcement came the same day that Ukraine’s military chief said he was withdrawing troops from the city in eastern Ukraine, where outnumbered defenders battled a Russian assault for four months.

The timing is critical as Russia is looking for a morale boost ahead of the second anniversary on February 24 of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the March presidential election in Russia.

Russia Ukraine War
Ukrainian troops withdrew from Avdiivka (Libkos/AP)

In a short statement posted on Facebook, Ukrainian commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said he had made the decision to avoid encirclement and “preserve the lives and health of servicemen”.

He added that troops were moving to “more favourable lines”.

“Our soldiers performed their military duty with dignity, did everything possible to destroy the best Russian military units, inflicted significant losses on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment.

“We are taking measures to stabilise the situation and maintain our positions,” the statement read.

The withdrawal came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made another trip to western Europe, hoping to press his country’s allies to keep providing military support.

It was Syrskyi’s first major test since being appointed as Ukraine’s new army chief last week.

In his previous position as commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, he faced criticism for holding on to the city of Bakhmut for nine months, a siege that became the war’s longest and bloodiest battle and cost Ukraine dearly, but also served to sap Russia’s forces.

In recent days, reports emerged that Ukrainian troops in Avdiika faced a deteriorating situation.

Rodion Kudriashov, deputy commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade, said on Friday that Ukrainian troops were still holding out against the onslaught of about 15,000 Russian soldiers, but he expected the situation would “soon become critical”.

“The enemy is trying to penetrate our defence and in some places to bypass our positions,” he told The Associated Press.

The 3rd Brigade said on its social media account on Friday that its soldiers were at the huge Avdiivka Coke Plant.

Russian warplanes have been dropping about 60 bombs a day, relentlessly shelling the area and launching assaults with armour and infantry, the brigade said.

A video showed dense black smoke over the factory, said to be caused by burning fuel oil reservoirs. The post said: “Poisonous smog spreads all over the plant.”

Russian media reported the Kremlin’s forces were making extensive use of plane-launched glide bombs, which fly at a shallower angle, to batter Ukrainian positions.

Heavily fortified with a web of tunnels and concrete fortifications, Avdiivka lies in the northern suburbs of Donetsk, a city in a region of the same name that Russian forces partially occupy.

Capturing Avdiivka could be a timely boost for Moscow and serve as a possible springboard for Russia to drive deeper into the region.

Fewer than 1,000 people remain in the city, according to the Donetsk regional governor, Vadym Filashkin. The city, with a pre-war population of about 31,000, is today a bombed-out shell of what it once was.

Aerial footage of Avdiivka obtained by The Associated Press last December showed an apocalyptic scene and hinted at Russia’s staggering losses, with the bodies of about 150 soldiers, most wearing Russian uniforms, lying scattered along tree lines where they sought cover.

By Press Association

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