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Russia’s Avdiivka offensive is failing, says top Ukrainian officer

 


Russia’s Avdiivka offensive is failing, says top Ukrainian officer


Major assault in Donetsk launched on Tuesday said to have resulted in serious losses for Moscow’s forces


A top Ukrainian commander has claimed that Russia’s biggest offensive in months – involving tanks, thousands of soldiers and armoured vehicles in an attack on the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka – is failing, as he admitted Kyiv’s own attempts to advance in the south were proving “difficult”.

Russian forces have pummelled the town over the past week, a key bulge surrounded by Russian-held territory on the eastern Donbas front. It is one of the largest assaults by Moscow since last year’s full-scale invasion and comes at a time when Ukraine’s counteroffensive is moving slowly, and the world is focused on the imminent Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.



At least three Russian battalions, each supported by an estimated 2,000-3,000 troops, began a dawn attack on Tuesday. Drone footage showed a line of military vehicles trundling forward. There has been intense fighting ever since. Russia has bombarded the city with relentless artillery fire and airstrikes.

Ukrainian military officials say Moscow’s goal is to encircle Avdiivka, but so far the attackers have made modest gains. Russia’s 25th combined arms army pushed forward from the south and north. It seized the nearby village of Berdychi and closed in on a 150-metre high slag heap next to the town’s coke and chemical factory.

The Russians have suffered serious losses. At least 36 Russian tanks and armoured vehicles were destroyed in the first 24 hours. According to the Kyiv Post, that figure has risen to 102 tanks and 183 armoured vehicles lost, with 2,840 troops killed. There were chaotic scenes. One tank fell off a pontoon bridge into a river. Another crushed a Russian soldier as it reversed; a Ukrainian munition then blew it up.

Col Dmytro Lysyuk – the commander of Ukraine’s 128th separate mountain assault brigade – said he believed there was zero possibility the Russian army would break through. He said that sending a lengthy military column into battle – a tactic used when Russian forces tried to seize Kyiv last year, and the eastern town of Vuhledar in February – would not work.

“The Russians should have realised this a long time ago,” said Lysyuk. “They have not managed to achieve even tactical success.” He added that Gen Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s general staff, was responsible: Gerasimov had underestimated Ukraine’s strength in Avdiivka, which has been on the frontline since 2014, when Moscow seized the nearby city of Donetsk. “It was an intelligence failure,” Lysyuk said.

Current situation in Ukraine
Areas where Ukraine has regained control



Russian fortifications

Russian-controlled territory

Most recent Russian advances*

Ukraine

Bakhmut

Avdiivka

Russian forces launched a

major offensive last week

to surround and capture

the town

Donetsk

Velyka Novosilka

Mariupol

Kyiv

Sea of Azov

50 km

50 miles

Guardian graphic. Source: the Institute for the Study of War with AEI’s Critical Threats Project. *Areas where ISW assesses Russian forces have operated in or launched attacks against but do not control. Brady Africk, analysis of satellite imagery from Copernicus. Shows defences constructed or expanded since Russia’s invasion last year, not an exhaustive list

A Russian battlefield victory would boost support at home for the war. Lysyuk said the Kremlin’s political objective was to advance to the administrative borders of Donetsk oblast. In September 2022, Vladimir Putin claimed he had “annexed” all of the eastern province, despite his forces controlling only about half of it. “They want to take it by the end of 2023. They won’t make it,” the colonel predicted. He added: “Given the scale of their losses, this is a very obvious defeat.”

Ukraine’s own counteroffensive in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, where the 128th brigade is fighting, had been tough, he acknowledged. “It’s very hard to go forward,” he admitted. There were formidable obstacles, he said. They included numerous minefields laid by Russia over the past 18 months; an extensive defensive trench network, dug in three lines; and kamikaze and first person view (FPV) drones.

The colonel said Ukraine had adapted its tactics. Instead of sending in heavy armour, which was vulnerable to aerial attack, his brigade was employing stealthier “small group” formations. These involved eight soldiers, plus a dozen-strong evacuation team, supported by accurate firepower. The group would storm enemy positions, sometimes driving out as many as 40 Russians. “We advance 100-500 metres a day,” he said.

Since early June, Kyiv has regained a small wedge of territory south of the Ukrainian-held village of Prithivi, Zaporizhzhia. Lysyuk said his forces were capable of going further and seizing occupied Tokmak – a key logistics and railway hub – as well as the city of Melito Political. He declined to say when this might happen. “It’s hard to predict. I would like to see Tokmak this year. We’re creating conditions for future actions,” he said.

One constraint was a lack of aviation. F-16s promised by the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium are unlikely to arrive anytime soon. Lysyuk said his brigade had received western anti-tank weapons, mortars and night-vision devices. It had not yet got modern battle tanks and was fighting with Soviet T-72s and 2S1 self-propelled artillery units. The Russians were superior in “certain areas”, he said, citing its manpower and its electronic warfare and reconnaissance equipment.

A Ukrainian soldier walks through a Russian-dug trench in Zaporizhzhia region.


Lysyuk said his brigade was ready for the impending cold season. “We’ve already had one winter. The situation is difficult but not critical. We know what to do,” he said. Soldiers in trenches would be rotated more frequently – every two to four hours, as opposed to every six to eight – with shelters built where they could warm up. Ukraine could still go forward. Success depended on “cunning” and “constantly changing” tactics, which ground down the enemy, he said.

Pentagon officials have criticised Ukraine’s battlefield strategy and suggested that a large concentration of forces at a single point could achieve quicker results. Lysyuk said he had to balance offensive operations with the need to preserve his soldiers’ lives. “We think about casualties all the time. Humans are our most precious resource,” he said. He added: “We are fighting a strong enemy. There will be no quick victory. We shouldn’t be under any illusions.”

Russian military bloggers are increasingly pessimistic about the likelihood of their forces capturing Avdiivka. After taking some ground initially, Russian troops found themselves quickly pinned down as Ukraine responded with counter-battery fire, said one blogger. “A return to ‘offensive’ tactics after almost a year of defence is not easy for the troops,” they said, adding that Ukraine’s forces would seek to regain lost positions.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has praised the courage of his country’s defenders. “Avdiivka. We are holding our ground,” Zelenskiy posted on social media. He shared pictures of soldiers driving around the ruined town. About 1,000 residents still live there – from a prewar population of 30,000 – despite relentless Russian attacks. “It is Ukrainian courage and unity that will determine how this war will end,” Zelenskiy wrote.

In a video address recorded on Saturday, Zelenskiy described Avdiivka as one of several locations on the frontline where “it is particularly hot right now”. “I thank everyone who is holding their positions and destroying Russian troops. Every day of these battles is lives. Lives that are sacrificed for the sake of our country,” he said.

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