Losing Ground, Ukraine Seeks New Positions Around Avdiivka

Ukrainian soldiers are withdrawing even further from positions around the shattered town of Avdiivka after advancing Russian forces breached a critical supply line and threatened to encircle scores of Ukrainian soldiers, Ukrainian military officials and soldiers said on Thursday.

Dmytro Lykhovii, a spokesman for Ukrainian forces fighting in the area, said the Ukrainians were “maneuvering” and “sometimes withdrawing to more advantageous positions and sometimes repelling enemy advances.”

He also said military commanders had set up a backup logistical route to the town to transport much needed supplies to Ukraine’s beleaguered troops.

The battle, Mr. Lykhovii said, was dynamic and changing by the hour as the two sides engaged in fierce urban combat. But his comments suggested the fighting had taken another ominous turn for Kyiv’s forces, potentially presaging their withdrawal from a town reduced to ruins by months of horrendous bombardment.

Signs of Ukraine’s deteriorating hold on Avdiivka have been evident for several weeks. Ukraine recently rotated out soldiers from the 110th Brigade, which had played a vital role in the defense of the city for two years but were exhausted and severely depleted after months of brutal combat. Soldiers from the elite Third Assault Brigade were sent in to shore up Ukraine’s forces but noted that they were being sent into a situation that was already “extremely critical.”

“ “Avdiivka is hell,” the brigade’s commander, Andrii Biletskyi, said in a statement. The situation in the city was “ precarious and unstable,” he said, with the Russians able to rotate troops and deploy more resources the fight.

“We are forced to fight 360 degrees against new brigades that the enemy is deploying,” he said.

Avdiivka, which is less than ten miles from the Russian occupied city of Donetsk, has withstood months of relentless Russian assaults aimed at encircling the stronghold.

However, as U.S. military assistance stopped flowing and commanders were forced to start rationing ammunition, the Russians managed to gain two footholds within the town itself.

As Russian warplanes pounded Avdiivka with powerful guided bombs, its small assault units stormed through the ruins. The Ukrainians have turned to drones to help thwart Russian advances. But a recent stretch of foggy and rainy weather has limited the use of drones by both sides.

With the Ukrainians forced to conserve ammunition, small bands of Russian assault units were able to amass within the city itself.

The Russian units are now advancing from the south, threatening to cut off Ukrainian forces in the southern part of city, and the north, where they have now crossed a key supply line in several places.

“The supply and evacuation of Avdiivka has become challenging, but an alternative logistics route, prepared in advance, has been activated,” Mr. Lykhovii said.

The Russians’ ultimate goal, he said, is to encircle the hulking Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, which could be used by Ukrainian forces to mount a last stand in the city should they be forced to pull out of the residential areas entirely.