Ukraine troops withdraw from besieged town

Ukraine troops withdraw from besieged town

Ammunition shortage bites, paving way for major Russian advance

Residential buildings heavily damaged by repeated Russian military strikes are seen in the frontline town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. (Photo: Reuters)
Residential buildings heavily damaged by repeated Russian military strikes are seen in the frontline town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. (Photo: Reuters)

KYIV - Ukrainian troops withdrew from the devastated eastern town of Avdiivka, the country’s new army chief said on Saturday, paving the way for Russia’s biggest advance since May 2023 when it captured the city of Bakhmut.

The withdrawal, announced as Ukraine faces acute shortages of ammunition with United States 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.

Gen 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.

“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.

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.

Outgunned and outnumbered

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 1,000 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.

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