Ukraine soldiers on front detail intense Avdiivka battle: “24 hours a day”

7 months ago
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“I thought I would be killed by Russians, maybe in the first few weeks,” chuckles Yevhen, an animated-sounding major in Ukraine’s National Guard who you wouldn’t know is fighting in one of the bloodiest battles of the nearly two-year-old war.

Yevhen joined Ukraine’s military after Russian troops poured over its borders in February 2022, fending off Moscow’s soldiers in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, and around the Kharkiv city of Izyum. But he now finds himself in Avdiivka, targeting Russian armored vehicles around the stalwart industrial town that has withstood nearly a decade on the frontline but could teeter into the Kremlin’s hands after months of relentless attacks.

“I’m worried about them capturing Avdiivka because, as a Ukrainian, I’m worried about every square meter of our land,” Yevhen, who goes by his call-sign “Tykhyi,” or “Quiet,” told Newsweek.

Russia launched its offensive around Avdiivka on October 10, triggering thousands of deaths on both sides just ahead of the grueling winter season settling in across Ukraine. Western analysts were initially optimistic about Avdiivka holding out and Ukrainian defenses remaining unbreached. But almost daily, Moscow has been inching further around the industrial settlement, and if, as Yevhen pointed out, Ukraine pools resources in Avdiivka, it has to pull them from elsewhere.

Ukrainians remain confident despite trickling fears over what a Russian victory in the Donetsk town would mean.

“So far, no one is willing to back down,” said Dmytro Lazutkin, a Ukrainian journalist and writer who is now one of the Ukrainian soldiers defending Avdiivka with the country’s 47th Brigade. Redeployed from the southern Zaporizhzhia region to Donetsk in October, “our brigade is holding back the Russian offensive on the northern flank of Avdiivka,” he told Newsweek.

Ukraine is wrapping its forces around Avdiivka from the southwest and the northeast, working to cut off the town and swallow it behind the frontlines.

Moscow’s troops advanced southeast of Stepove—a village just under two miles northwest of Avdiivka—on Wednesday, according to the Institute for the Study of War. There is no confirmation yet of information from influential Russian military bloggers that suggest Moscow advanced east of the Avdiivka Coke Plant that dominates the northwest, the ISW said.

Holding Stepove and the vast coking plant is top of Ukraine’s priority list, Lazutkin said.

Doing so is no easy task. Ukraine’s brigades kitted out with Western-supplied Bradley fighting vehicles and Javelin missiles are clinging on to the town with the knowledge that Russia’s casualties are eye-watering and only mounting.

“The losses of the enemy exceed ours several times,” Lazutkin said. “Our army will hold Avdiivka as long as it allows [Ukraine] to inflict heavy losses on the enemy.”

“Defending the city is worthwhile as long as we exhaust the Russians,” Lazutkin added. “We will continue to hold the city. Of course, they can try to surround Avdiivka, but it will cost them dearly.”

Russian casualties are the highest they’ve been since February 2022, the U.K. government assessed last month. In the two months of intensified fighting around Avdiivka, Russia has sustained more than 13,000 casualties around the town, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said this week.

Russia is banking on its human capital and its drones outlasting Ukraine’s resources. Yevhen and the 47th’s Lazutkin agree; Moscow has upped its first-person-view kamikaze drone usage around Avdiivka.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Tavria group of forces, which covers Avdiivka, declined to comment to Newsweek on Russia’s and Ukraine’s FPV drone use around the town.

“The Russian drones are cheap, so Russians can use them 24/7,” Yevhen said. “24 hours a day, they are in the air.”

Ukraine needs more of its own first-person-view, or FPV drones, just as much as it needs ammunition, Lazutkin said. Kyiv’s fighters need Western backers to dig deep and find the resources to continue Ukraine’s fight in eastern Ukraine, the soldiers on the ground suggest.

“The war is becoming more technological, and in order to defeat the enemy, who has an advantage in manpower, we need more modern means of radio-electronic warfare, air defense systems, drones and high-precision weapons,” said Lazutkin.…Read more by Ellie Cook

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