Russia Takes Full Control of Avdiivka After Ukrainian Troops Withdraw

By Reuters
February 19, 2024Russia–Ukraine War
Russia Takes Full Control of Avdiivka After Ukrainian Troops Withdraw
An aerial view of the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, eastern Ukraine, in a still from video released on Feb. 19, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russian forces on Monday claimed full control of the vast Soviet-era coke plant in the ruined Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, cementing the biggest battlefield gain in nine months after one of the most intense battles of the war.

Russian Defense Ministry announced on Saturday that its forces took complete control of Avdiivka on the same day Ukraine’s military chief said he was withdrawing troops from the city. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Saturday told the Kremlin that Russian forces were working to clear final pockets of resistance at the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, officials said in a statement.

The fall of Avdiivka is Russia’s biggest gain since it captured the city of Bakhmut in May 2023, and comes almost two years to the day since President Vladimir Putin triggered a full-scale war by ordering the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s defense ministry said its troops had advanced about 9 kilometers (5 miles) in that part of the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, and that Russian troops were pressing forward after a deadly urban battle.

Ukraine said it had withdrawn its soldiers to save troops from being fully surrounded after months of fierce fighting. Mr. Putin hailed the fall of Avdiivka as an important victory and congratulated Russian troops.

“The ‘Center’ grouping of troops, taking the offensive, took full control of the coke plant in Avdiivka,” Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement on Monday alongside a video showing a series of blasts in what appeared to be the plant.

“Russian flags were hoisted on the administrative buildings of the plant,” the ministry said.

Russian state television showed blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags being taken down in Avdiivka and Russia’s white, blue and red tricolour flag raised, including over the coke plant.

Russia cast the Ukrainian withdrawal as rushed and chaotic, with some soldiers and weapons left behind. The Ukrainian military said there had been casualties but that the situation had stabilized somewhat after the retreat.

Mr. Putin sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022, triggering the full-scale war after eight years of conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces on the one side and pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian proxies on the other.

Avdiivka, which is called Avdeyevka by Russians, has endured a decade of conflict. It holds particular symbolism for Russia as it was briefly taken in 2014 by Moscow-backed separatists who seized a swathe of eastern Ukraine but was then recaptured by Ukrainian troops who built extensive fortifications.

Avdiivka sits in the industrial Donbas region, 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk. Before the war, the Soviet-era coke plant was one of Europe’s biggest.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.

But Saturday, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said his troops had moved back to more secure positions outside the town “to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen.”

Russia said on Saturday that its forces had inflicted a series of defeats on Ukrainian forces along the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line.

The West routinely gives estimates of Russian casualties in the war but rarely speaks about Ukrainian casualties which Moscow says are vast. Western intelligence assessments say hundreds of thousands of men on both sides have been killed or wounded in the war.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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