Russia Presses Assault Near Avdiivka in Southeast Ukraine

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 and experts acknowledged that Avdiivka, which has come under repeated Russian attacks since the start of the full-scale invasion, 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.

Mykola Bielieskov, a military analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies, a Ukrainian government research group, said in an interview that “the scale of the recent attacks is unprecedented” in Avdiivka. He compared it to the fighting that took place there more than half a year ago, when Russia relentlessly shelled the town, turning it into a wasteland.

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 targeted by Russia include Bakhmut, which Wagner’s mercenaries captured in May, and Kupiansk, further to the north, which has recently come under heavy Russian fire, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukrainian forces have 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 a very important strong point in the Ukrainian system of defense,” Mr. Bielieskov said, noting that Russian forces had repeatedly tried to seize the town. Its capture, he added, could compromise Ukraine’s defensive positions in the east, because the town has road connections to two key cities in the area, Pokrovsk and Kostiantynivka.

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. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has made capturing all of the Donetsk region one his military’s primary objectives.

Avdiivka once served as a bedroom community for the metropolis of Donetsk, before that city was taken over in the separatist war instigated and fueled by Mr. Putin in 2014. Only 15 miles or so from Donetsk, the town became a key defensive position, with a contingent of Ukrainian forces dug into trenches built around the ruins of country homes and an old tire factory.

Since the start of the full-scale invasion, Avdiivka has been a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, with Kyiv’s forces clinging to positions there despite constant Russian strikes that have forced nearly all of the town’s 30,000 residents to flee.

Capturing Avdiivka, however, will not be easy for the Russians, Mr. Bielieskov said. 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.

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