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Russia trying to attack beyond Avdiivka, Ukraine warns

By AFP - Feb 19,2024 - Last updated at Feb 19,2024

A digger arrives to help rescuers remove rubble from a school destroyed during a overnight missile attack on the town of Slaviansk, Donetsk region on Sunday (AFP photo)

NOVOOLEKSANDRIVKA, Ukraine — Russian troops launched multiple attacks to the west of the recently captured Avdiivka in a bid to force more gains on the battlefield, a Ukrainian army spokesperson on Sunday.

Facing manpower and ammunition shortages, Ukraine was forced to withdraw from the industrial hub in the eastern Donetsk region, handing Moscow its first major territorial gain since May 2023.

"The enemy is trying to actively develop its offensive," Dmytro Lykhoviy, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian army commander leading Kyiv's troops in the area, said on state TV on Sunday.

Ukraine's general staff reported 14 failed Russian attacks on the village of Lastochkyne, around 2 kilometres  to the west of Avdiivka's northern edge.

"But our considerable forces are entrenched there," Lykhoviy said.

He also reported failed Russian attacks near the villages of Robotyne and Verbove in the southern Zaporizhzhia region — one of the few places where Ukraine managed to regain ground during last year's counteroffensive.

But he said it would be "very difficult" for Russia to break through there, given heavy Ukrainian defensive lines and natural conditions of the terrain.

"The situation in the Zaporizhzhia sector is stable... No positions have been lost in the Zaporizhzhia sector," he said on Sunday on state TV.


'Important victory' 


Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday hailed the capture of Avdiivka as an "important victory" for his troops, just days ahead of the second anniversary of the invasion.

The battle for Avdiivka was one of the bloodiest of the two-year war, drawing comparisons with Russia's assault on Bakhmut, which it captured last May at the cost of tens of thousands of soldiers.

Avdiivka had symbolic importance to both Kyiv and Moscow — seen as a marker of Ukrainian resistance after it briefly fell to Russian-backed separatists in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the decision to withdraw was taken to save as many lives as possible among his troops.

Some Ukrainian soldiers were captured during the hasty retreat, the army said, without providing details.

Russia’s capture of the town has raised fears its forces could now try to advance further into the Donetsk region, which it claims to have annexed.

In the village of Novooleksandrivka some 30 kilometres  west, local Vadym told AFP that, for now, he was staying put with his wife and child, born one week ago.

The 22-year-old said shelling by the advancing Russian forces was “constant”.

Around 200 people remain, but the attacks had not yet pushed him to leave with his family.

“I hope it will stop. And if it doesn’t stop, we will try to leave.”

Kyiv’s newly-installed commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrsky vowed on Sunday his forces would “eventually return to our Ukrainian Avdiivka”.

Concerns are growing in Kyiv and the West over Ukraine’s ability to thwart a renewed Russian offensive without unlocking a stalled $60-billion US aid package.

US President Joe Biden on Saturday directly blamed Congress, where political wrangling has held up a Ukrainian aid bill since last year, for Kyiv’s loss of the town.

“Ukraine’s military was forced to withdraw from Avdiivka after Ukrainian soldiers had to ration ammunition due to dwindling supplies as a result of congressional inaction, resulting in Russia’s first notable gain in months,” the White House said in a readout of a call between Biden and Zelensky.

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