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Russia eliminates last pocket of resistance in Ukraine's Avdiivka, completes city's capture

Avdiivka's fall came after Ukraine pulled its forces from the frontline city to avoid encirclement after being overwhelmed by Russian troops. Russia's biggest gain since it captured Ukraine's Bakhmut city in May 2023, ahead of the two-year anniversary of the war.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Kyiv Published on: February 19, 2024 15:48 IST
Russia Ukraine war, Russia captures Avdiivka
Image Source : AP An aerial view of the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, where Russian and Ukrainian forces battled.

Kyiv: Russian forces have completed their capture of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka by eliminating the last pocket of resistance in the city's huge coke plant, according to the Russian military on Monday. The capture was driven by the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces as they were overwhelmed by the weight of Russian troops and their firepower.

Ukrainian forces confirmed pulling out of the bombed-out city in what amounted to a triumph for the Kremlin even though the four-month battle was costly. The victory was a morale boost for Russia, days ahead of the two-year anniversary of its full-scale invasion of its neighbour on February 24, 2022.

Russia's defence ministry said its troops had advanced about 9 km in that part of the 1,000-km (620-mile) front line, and that Russian troops were pressing forward after an deadly urban battle. The fall of Avdiivka is Russia's biggest gain since it captured the city of Bakhmut in May 2023.

"The 'Centre' grouping of troops, taking the offensive, took full control of the coke plant in Avdiivka," Russia's defence ministry said in a statement alongside a video showing a series of blasts in what appeared to be the plant. "Russian flags were hoisted on the administrative buildings of the plant," it added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the fall of Avdiivka on Saturday as an important victory and congratulated Russian troops. Russia is pushing harder in the northeastern Kharkiv region and in southern Zaporizhia, according to analysts.

A major setback for Ukraine

Newly-appointed Ukrainian commander Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said he had made the decision to withdraw troops to avoid encirclement and “preserve the lives and health of servicemen". “Our soldiers performed their military duty with dignity, did everything possible to destroy the best Russian military units, and inflicted significant losses on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment," he said.

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.

The withdrawal came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday made another trip to Western Europe, hoping to press his country's Western allies to keep providing military support. The loss in Avdiivka underscored its reliance on the supply of Western weapons and ammunition, as hold-ups have left it short of provisions and handicapped in the fight.

Russia cast the Ukrainian withdrawal as rushed and chaotic, with some soldiers and weapons left behind. The Ukrainian military said there had been casualties but that the situation had stabilised somewhat after the retreat. Zelenskyy said his country “is ”doing everything possible and impossible" to defeat Russia.

However, some Western military analysts believe that Ukraine could counter Russia's attempt to build up on its Avdiivka success by trying to erect new defense lines in that immediate area and deploying fresh units to hold back the Kremlin's forces.

How is Avdiivka important?

Avdiivka, which is called Avdeyevka by Russians, has endured a decade of conflict. It holds particular symbolism for Russia as it was briefly taken in 2014 by Moscow-backed separatists who seized a swathe of eastern Ukraine but was then recaptured by Ukrainian troops who built extensive fortifications. The city sits in the industrial Donbas region, 15 km (9 miles) north of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk.

It also houses a Soviet-era coke plant was one of Europe's biggest. 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 United States is Ukraine's biggest single supporter but some $60 billion for Kyiv is being held up by political disagreements among American lawmakers. After the failure of Ukraine to pierce Russian lines last year, Moscow has been trying to grind down Ukrainian forces just as Kyiv ponders a major new mobilisation by shoring international support and appointing a new war commander.

(with inputs from agencies)

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