HomeGlobal Defence UpdatesUkraine withdraws from eastern city Avdiivka to 'save our people'

Ukraine withdraws from eastern city Avdiivka to ‘save our people’

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Ukraine withdrew troops from the besieged eastern stronghold of Avdiivka to save the lives of its soldiers, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday, handing Russia its biggest symbolic victory since May.

The pullback comes after Russian forces stepped up efforts to capture the eastern industrial hub in October, leading to mass casualties and destruction.

Facing ammunition shortages and outnumbered on the battlefield, Ukrainian forces announced they had withdrawn in the early hours of Saturday.
“The ability to save our people is the most important task for us,” Zelensky told a security conference in Munich, explaining the move.

“In order to avoid being surrounded, it was decided to withdraw to other lines. This does not mean that people retreated some kilometres and Russia captured something, it did not capture anything,” he also said.

This echoed earlier statements from the newly-appointed commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrsky, who said he “decided to withdraw our units from the city and switch to defence on more favourable lines.””The life of military personnel is the highest value,” Syrksy said.It was Syrsky’s first major decision since his appointment, at a time when Ukraine faces mounting pressures in the east because of ammunition shortages, with a $60 billion US military aid package held up in Washington.

– ‘The right decision’ –

Commander Oleksandr Tarnavsky supported the move, saying Russian troops were “advancing over the corpses of their own soldiers with a 10-to-one shelling advantage.”

A Ukrainian serviceman deployed on the eastern frontline told AFP that “it was the right decision given the lack of weapons and artillery shells, because if we don’t save the lives of the soldiers, we will soon have no one left to fight”.

“But if we keep losing ground, we will lose this war,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Avdiivka lies in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which the Kremlin has claimed to be part of Russia since a 2022 annexation that remains unrecognised by nearly all United Nations members.

It briefly fell in July 2014 into the hands of pro-Russian separatists, before returning to Ukrainian control and remaining so despite the invasion and its proximity to the separatist capital Donetsk.

After the failure of Kyiv’s counter-offensive in the summer, Russian forces went on the attack, facing a Ukrainian army struggling to replenish its ranks and running low on ammunition.

“I am surprised that Avdiivka has held out for two years,” Oleksii, a 50-year-old sergeant in the Donetsk region, told AFP on the phone.

– ‘No longer exists’ –

The battle for Avdiivka, less than 10 kilometres (six miles) north of the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, has been one of the bloodiest of the two-year war.

Many compare it to the battle for Bakhmut, in which tens of thousands of soldiers were killed.

Avdiivka had around 30,000 inhabitants before the Russian invasion. Most of the city has been since destroyed but less than 1,000 residents remain, according to local authorities.

Russian forces “destroy everything, level it to the ground,” Oleksii said.

“You can’t hold the city because it no longer exists,” he said.

The city has important symbolic value, and Moscow hopes its capture will make Ukraine’s bombing of Donetsk more difficult.

Questions however remain on whether or not it will give a strategic advantage to Russian forces to press further in eastern Ukraine.

To fend off these attacks, Ukrainian officials are redoubling pleas for much-needed military aid.

The fall of Avdiivka comes as Zelensky tries to rally allies in Munich for more aid.

The day before he signed bilateral security pacts with France and Germany to lock in support for Kyiv in its battle against Russia.

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