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What to know about Avdiivka as Russia claims control of the strategic city – The Washington Post

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Ukraine announced its withdrawal from the eastern town of Avdiivka, a strategic stronghold that has been repeatedly attacked by Russia and its proxies over the past decade. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Avdiivka is a strategic hub in Donetsk, one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia claimed to illegally annex in 2022.
  • Russian forces have made a “concerted effort” to capture the city since October, according to at the British Ministry of Defence. Since then, Russia has frequently targeted a coke and chemicals factory in the city, with one Ukrainian soldier reporting around 20 bombs being dropped a day. Russian forces advanced into the city this month.
  • Ukraine’s military leader, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky, announced the troop withdrawal on Saturday morning. He said he ordered the withdrawal “to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of the soldiers.”
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday its forces had taken “full” control of Avdiivka but were still clearing some areas, including the coking plant, which was the last stronghold in the battle for the city .
  • The withdrawal marks a significant defeat for Ukraine and comes as kyiv grapples with a shortage of weapons, ammunition and troops. amid weakening support from its allies.

Why Avdiivka is important

Avdiivka, located 24 kilometers from the Russian-occupied regional capital Donetsk, lies within a large swath of Ukrainian territory that Russia has attempted to capture through direct and proxy assaults.

In 2014, pro-Russian separatists invaded and briefly captured Avdiivka. Ukrainian forces regained control of the town and fortified it, but fighting continued. A sharp increase in violence in 2017 created a humanitarian crisis in the city. Today it is largely destroyed. Avdiivka’s population, which numbered more than 30,000 before the war, has fallen to about 1,000, the Associated Press reported, citing city officials. The remaining residents mostly live underground, Reuters reported.

Russia claims ‘full’ control of Avdiivka after Ukraine’s withdrawal

Avdiivka has strategic and logistical value for Moscow. The Defense Ministry said Saturday that the capture of Avdiivka would move the front line of the war away from the city of Donetsk, making it more difficult for Ukraine to attempt to recapture the regional capital.

The withdrawal will also boost Russian morale as the war’s second anniversary approaches on Feb. 24 and reinforce concerns about Ukraine’s dwindling military supplies and personnel.

The Institute for the Study of War think tank said Russia’s advance toward Avdiivka highlighted the importance of air defenses. Russia was able, in the final days of its offensive, to provide “close air support” to its ground forces, according to the ISW.

Citing Ukrainian military officials and soldiers, the ISW said Russian forces had launched large numbers of glide bombs – which are modified to glide rather than fall towards targets and are more difficult to bring down – on parts of the city.

“The Russian ability to carry out these massive strikes over several days in the most active part of the front line suggests that Ukrainian forces were unable to deny them access to the airspace around Avdiivka », writes the ISW. “Russian forces likely exploited this temporary localized air superiority to facilitate the capture of a large portion of the colony. »

On Saturday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said the loss at Avdiivka showed the need for sophisticated air defense systems to prevent Russian forces from using guided bombs.

The comments come as kyiv has issued dire warnings about the consequences if allies do not provide enough ammunition and weapons to Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that “keeping Ukraine in an artificial arms deficit… allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Munich Security Conference on February 17, urging the United States and other allies not to abandon Ukraine. (Video: host broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk)

It was not yet clear Sunday whether Ukrainian troops remained in Avdiivka or inside the coke and chemical plant that was until recently Ukraine’s last stronghold. On Saturday evening, the Russian Defense Ministry said measures were being taken to “clear the city of militants and block Ukrainian units who left the city and settled” inside the factory.

In a statement Sunday, Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavsky, commander of Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region, said some Ukrainian soldiers had been captured during the withdrawal, but he did not say how many. He added that Ukraine would seek humane treatment of its soldiers through humanitarian organizations and other countries.

What did Ukraine and Russia say?

The withdrawal of Ukrainian troops sparked a war of messages between kyiv and Moscow, as Ukrainian officials tried to put a positive spin on the withdrawal and Russian officials rushed to present it as a symbolic victory.

Syrsky, the newly appointed Ukrainian military leader, said the withdrawal would allow Kiev to “shift to defense on more favorable lines” and claimed that Ukrainian troops “inflicted significant losses” on Russian forces in during the operation. In a statement on Sunday, Tarnavsky said that between October 10, 2023 and February 17, 2024, more than 1,300 Russian tanks, aircraft, artillery systems and armored vehicles were destroyed. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify this claim.

Zelensky said in an interview Saturday that the decision to withdraw from Avdiivka was “well-balanced” and helped save the lives of Ukrainian troops.

Separately, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin congratulated his country’s army “on such a significant victory and success” at Avdiivka. Peskov said Putin would personally honor members of the Russian Air Force who took part in the operation at Avdiivka.

How did the United States react?

Ukraine’s withdrawal from Avdiivka comes as a roughly $60 billion aid package proposed by President Biden remains blocked by congressional Republicans.

The White House, in a statement following a call between Biden and Zelensky on Saturday, said Ukraine’s defeat in the city was the “result of congressional inaction.”

During the call, Biden “emphasized the need for Congress to urgently pass the additional national security funding bill to resupply Ukrainian forces,” the White House said.

Alex Horton, Andrew Jeong, John Hudson and Isabelle Khurshudyan contributed to this report.

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