Ukraine Says Withdraws From Position South Of Embattled Avdiivka

Ukraine on Friday said it was pulling back from a position on the southern outskirts of frontline city Avdiivka, a main target for Moscow ahead of the second anniversary of the Russian invasion.

Facing a shortage of ammunition and outnumbered on the battlefield, Ukraine may be forced to withdraw from the eastern town, which has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against the Russian attack.

The fighting raged as President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Berlin to rally Western support for his country’s cause. He will later travel to Paris and then address the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Russia’s forces in October mounted a costly bid to seize Avdiivka, resulting in massive damage to the town and heavy casualties, reminiscent of the battle for Bakhmut.

“After many months of confrontation, the command decided to withdraw from the Zenit position on the southeastern outskirts of Avdiivka,” Oleksandr Tarnavsky, a Ukrainian general in the east, said on social media.

He noted that the move was made to “save personnel and improve the operational situation”, adding that the withdrawal did “not give the enemy a strategic advantage”.

Zelensky said the army was taking on new approaches, with commanders doing “everything to protect our people first and foremost”.

“This is the main signal from me. Our military is the most important thing we have,” he added.

The battle for the industrial hub, less than 10 kilometres (six miles) north of the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, has been one of the bloodiest of the two-year war.

Almost every building has been damaged or destroyed, according to the Centre for Information Resilience.

Despite daily shelling, almost 1,000 residents have remained in the town, once home to over 30,000 people, its mayor Vitaly Barabash said in early February.

“We are well aware of what Russia is doing to our towns and villages. They will not stop until they have completely destroyed all life there,” Zelensky said.

Russia’s stubborn push into Avdiivka has forced an agonising question on residents in surrounding towns and villages: whether to flee now or just hope for the best.

Outside a damaged hospital in Selydove — a nearby town that has suffered escalating Russian strikes — Olena Obodets said she and her neighbours were grappling with that very problem.

“I’m hearing a lot of people in the town talking about whether they’re going to evacuate or not,” the 42-year-old told AFP, outside the medical facility struck this week by fatal bombardments, with the acrid smell of burning hanging in the air.

“My daughter asks me every day — every day — to evacuate but I tell her each time that the time hasn’t yet come,” she added, against dull thuds of distant artillery fire.

Capturing Avdiivka would be the most significant territorial gain for Moscow since it seized Bakhmut last May after months of bloody fighting.

“It was difficult there (in Bakhmut) but now it is extremely difficult,” said the spokesman of the 3rd Assault Brigade, Oleksandr Borodin, adding that the Avdiivka fight was comparatively “more difficult” because Russian forces are now better equipped.

Later he added that the situation was “constantly changing” because “the pressure from the Russians is simply extraordinary”.

Online maps of troop movements prepared by military bloggers close to both the Ukrainian and Russian armies showed Russian forces closing in on Avdiivka, taking over positions held by Ukrainian forces the day before.

“Troops are also manoeuvering to new prepared positions to continue to destroy the Russian occupiers and hold the city,” said Tarnavsky.

“Ukrainian defenders continue to hold back the enemy who keeps trying to encircle Avdiivka… the Ukrainian soldiers are standing their ground,” it added.

Ukraine has been making pleas for sustained help from its Western allies, with Zelensky travelling to Germany on Friday.

Zelensky signed a security deal in Berlin, hailed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz as a “historic step” anchoring sustained support for Kyiv.

The French presidency also confirmed that a security agreement would be signed with Ukraine, but did not provide any specifics on its content.

Those pieces of news were a welcome boost as a $60 billion US military aid package remains blocked by the US Congress.

And the European Union has admitted that it will only be able to send half of the one million artillery shells it had originally promised would be despatched by March.

Ukrainian army sends reinforcements to Avdiivka
The frontline town of Avdiivka has become the new symbol of the Russian war in Ukraine
The frontline town of Avdiivka has become the new symbol of the Russian war in Ukraine
Ukrianian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a security deal in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
Ukrianian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a security deal in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

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