Ukraine yields ground to Russian blitz as ammunition runs low

The road back from the front lines, where Ukrainian defenders are short on ammunition.

The road back from the front lines, where Ukrainian defenders are short on ammunition. Photo: AP

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the devastated eastern town of Avdiivka, paving the way for Russia’s biggest advance since May 2023 when it captured the city of Bakhmut.

The withdrawal, announced in the early hours of Saturday as Ukraine faces acute shortages of ammunition with US military aid delayed for months in Congress, aimed to save troops from being fully surrounded by Russian forces after months of fierce fighting, Kyiv said.

General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who took the helm of the Ukrainian military in a major shakeup last week, said Ukrainian forces had moved back to more secure positions outside the town that had a pre-war population of 32,000.

Strategic withdrawal

“I decided to withdraw our units from the town and move to defence from more favourable lines in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen,” he was quoted as saying in an armed forces statement.

The loss of the town nearly two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion may give President Volodymyr Zelenskiy a stronger case to make to the West for more urgent military aid as he addresses the Munich Security Conference on Saturday morning.

US President Joe Biden had said on Thursday that Avdiivka risked falling to Russian forces because of ammunition shortages following months of Republican congressional opposition to a new US military aid package for Kyiv.

Capturing Avdiivka is key to Russia’s aim of securing full control of the two provinces that make up the industrial Donbas region, and could hand President Vladimir Putin a battlefield victory as he seeks re-election next month.

Avdiivka has borne the brunt of mounting offensive pressure by Russian forces in the east as wavering Western military aid has compounded the fatigue of troops fighting for almost two years.

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

There was no immediate comment about the withdrawal from the Russian Defence Ministry, Zelenskiy or the Ukrainian defence minister.

‘Hell’ on earth

Russia stepped up its offensive on Avdiivka in October and Ukraine’s positions had been looking increasingly fraught for weeks.

The Third Assault Brigade, a prominent Ukrainian infantry assault unit, was rushed into the town to help reinforce troops this week as other Ukrainian forces pulled back from the southeast of the town.

The unit described the fighting as “hell” and said on social media that Ukrainian defenders had been outnumbered by Russian forces by a ratio of about six to 100 in some places.

Russia has not given details of its losses in the brutal fighting for the town, but Ukrainian officials and Western military analysts say its advances have come at a staggering cost in terms of personnel and armoured vehicles.

The town, where fewer than 1000 residents are now left, lies just north of the Russian-held bastion of Donetsk which Ukraine lost control of in 2014 when Moscow’s proxies began an uprising. Avdiivka has a vast coking plant that has stopped functioning during the war.

Earlier on Friday, Zelenskiy secured new military aid and signed a long-term security pact with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, in a meeting that was jolted by the news of the death of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Zelenskiy is visiting Germany and France in a tour to drum up military assistance at a critical point in the war against Russia, with Ukrainian troops trying to hold back Russian forces closing in on the eastern town of Avdiivka.

The security pact, which will last for 10 years, commits Germany to supporting Ukraine with military assistance and hitting Russia with sanctions and export controls.


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