Major Victory For Russian Army As Ukraine Forces Flee Eastern City

Following a year that saw little change in control of territory, the Russian army has secured a major victory in its war in Ukraine as Ukrainian forces have retreated from the eastern city of Avdiivka. 

Shortly after midnight Saturday in Ukraine, the country’s newly-installed top commander, General Oleksandr Syrsky, announced that he had ordered troops to evacuate the city. Surrounded in three directions by the Russian army, Ukrainian soldiers in the city found themselves in a rapidly-tightening noose. 

“Based on the operational situation around Avdiivka, in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen, I decided to withdraw our units from the city and move to defense on more favorable lines,” said Syrsky in a Facebook post. 

While its authenticity can’t be confirmed, video circulating on social media purportedly shows Ukrainian armored vehicles executing a fiery but mostly orderly retreat: 

The capture of the city is the most significant triumph for Russia since it took Bakhmut last May. Situated nine miles northwest of the Russian-held city of Donetsk, Avdiivka was was briefly controlled by pro-Russia separatists in 2014 before Ukraine retook the city, which had a pre-war population of 32,000.  

Russia’s victory is a new step toward a principal objective announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin when he ordered the “special military operation” — taking control of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Together, the two territories comprise the heavily industrialized, coal-rich Donbas region, which has a majority Russian-speaking population. Russia has since expanded its territorial goals, and has taken huge swaths of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Oblasts, thus forming a land bridge to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. 

Red indicates Russian-controlled territory as of Feb. 16

Ukraine deployed one of its two specialized assault brigades — the 3rd Assault Brigade — to help cover the retreat. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who leads Ukrainian forces operating in southeastern Ukraine, described the dismal scenario faced by his troops in Avdiivka, which he characterized as the “hottest” zone along the entire 600-mile-long battlefront:

“In a difficult battlefield situation, when only ruins and a pile of broken bricks remain from the fortification, our priority is to save the soldiers’ lives…The enemy launches massive bomb attacks day and night, and does not stop attacking simultaneously from several directions.”  He described Russia as “practically wiping the city from the face of the earth.” 

The fall of Avdiivka came a day after President Biden tried using the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny to pressure Congress into throwing billions more dollars into the war in Ukraine. “History is watching the House of Representatives,” said Biden. “The failure to support Ukraine at this moment will never be forgotten…The clock is ticking, and this has to happen, we have to help now.”

Then again, maybe it’s time to stop promoting the fiction that Ukraine has any hope of ejecting Russia from the approximately 20% of the country it has captured — and time to start earnestly pursuing a settlement that restores peace and ends a proxy war that has cost countless lives while only benefitting the military-industrial complex.  

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