Ukrainian forces were engaged in fierce fighting this week around the frontline town of Avdiivka in southeastern Ukraine, as Russian forces have intensified their assault on the area with heavy artillery bombardment and tanks, Ukrainian officials and military experts said.
Ukraine’s top military command said on Wednesday that it had repelled all the attacks so far but officials acknowledged that Avdiivka, already devastated by Russian shelling, was suffering one of the heaviest assaults in months.
“Our Avdiivka is under massive attacks by Russian artillery and aviation,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said on Tuesday in a post on the Telegram messaging service, which included a photo of a building reduced to rubble.
Vitaliy Barabash, the head of Avdiivka’s military administration, told Ukrainian television the same day that heavy fighting was going on to the north of the town.
The assault on Avdiivka is one of the few offensive operations launched by the Russian military in months, as Russian forces have focused on defending against a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south.
Russia’s attacks this year have mostly taken place along Ukraine’s eastern front line, where Moscow is trying to capture Ukrainian territory in regions it claims to have annexed but that it does not fully control. Other frontline towns that have come under Russian attack include Bakhmut, which Wagner’s mercenaries captured in May, and Kupiansk, further to the north.
Ukrainian forces have also retaken several strategic villages in the east. But with both sides holed up in heavily fortified positions, relatively little ground has changed hands this year.
Still, Russian forces appeared to have deployed significant forces in its push to close in on Avdiivka. Ukraine’s top military command said on Tuesday that up to three Russian battalions had launched a ground assault, supported by tanks and armored vehicles.
Rybar, an influential Russian military blogger, said on Telegram that Russian forces had broken through several Ukrainian defensive positions near villages surrounding Avdiivka, as they attempt to encircle the town. His claims could not be independently verified.
Avdiivka is part of the Donetsk region, which the Kremlin claimed to have annexed a year ago, along with three other Ukrainian provinces, but which Moscow does not fully control.
The town lies a few miles north of the city of Donetsk, which was seized by pro-Kremlin forces in 2014. Since the full-scale war started, Avdiivka has been a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s onslaught. Ukrainian forces have clung on there despite constant Russian strikes that have forced nearly all of the town’s 30,000 residents to flee.
The town is one of the most heavily fortified areas in the Donetsk region, and Russian forces have long struggled to make any significant gains there. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said on Tuesday that a successful encirclement “would very likely require more forces than Russia has currently dedicated” to its offensive efforts there.