Ukrainian troops fighting from thick fortifications in the eastern sector have used massive artillery strikes backed by anti-tank missiles and drone swarms to hand the Russian army its worst battlefield defeat in nine months, sources said on Friday.
Large-scale tank and armored infantry attacks under the command of Russia’s 25th Combined Arms Army launched between 100-200 armored vehicles in a two-pronged attack starting Monday with the objective of encircling Ukrainian forces dug in around the town of Avdiivka, a coal-mining community near the northern suburbs of the Russia-controlled Ukrainian city of Donetsk.
Battles were still ongoing on Friday afternoon but all Russian assaults thus far in four days of battles had been turned back. The Russian military in fighting around Avdiivka likely suffered its worst combat losses since mid-February, and by some measures suffered one of Moscow’s worst battlefield defeats of the war thus far, official sources and independent information platforms and individual battle accounts widely agreed.
The Russian attacks appeared intended to pinch off a 12-15 km wide salient held by Ukrainian troops around Avdiivka. Excepting coal mine slag heaps, the terrain is flat and open. The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) leadership has rotated troops in and out of positions around the town since the outset of the war. Currently, the horseshoe-shaped salient around Avdiivka is held by a conglomerate force of the Ukrainian regular army, police, border guards and territorial defense units.
Battlefield accounts and video images geo-located to multiple sectors around Avdiivka confirmed repeated attempts by Russian forces to break through Ukrainian lines by advancing in massed formations of 20-40 armored vehicles led by tanks. Repeatedly, those sources said, advancing Russian forces were halted and turned back by concentrated Ukrainian artillery strikes.
The destruction of a column of Russian armored vehicles coming from Pisky southwest of Avdiivka.— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) October 12, 2023
Starting from📍48.06732855661509, 37.65010758379431 pic.twitter.com/esYl7gqCqI
Ukrainian combat brigades deployed in the Avdiivka sector reported successful defensive battles ending with Russian losses and retreats. Elements of the 53rd Motor Rifle Brigade, deployed around the village of Severne, along the southern flank of the Avdiivka salient, made public video of a Russian armored column driving northwards across table-top flat terrain into intense shell fire.
The Ukrainian unit claimed its drone observers confirmed Russian forces lost two armored vehicles and 100 soldiers in the one-sided battle lasting ten minutes. No Ukrainian losses were reported.
Most Kremlin-linked sources confirmed attacks around Avdiivka took place and said fighting was intense without reporting success. A few, isolated Russian military information platforms reported Kremlin forces had captured a coal mining slag heap some 150 meters tall to the north-west of Avdiivka. Control of this key high terrain would allow Russian forces to cut off Ukrainian supply into the Avdiivka salient by bombarding approach roads with artillery, those opinion-makers claimed.
Pro-Kremlin blogger Aleksandr Khodakovsky, an officer defecting from the Ukrainian military in 2014, on Oct. 11 wrote, optimistically, that the slag heap was firmly in Russian hands: “In the last 24 hours we have succeeded in worsening the situation for the enemy (Ukraine) in Avdiivka and reached lines from which we can control communications of the (Ukrainian) group of forces in Avdiivka.” Digging in artillery would be difficult, he added. He later walked back the remarks.
Ukrainian sources both official and anecdotal rejected Russian claims of even minor or temporary ground gains around Avdiivka. Soldiers from the 129th Territorial Defense Brigade, the Ukrainian unit responsible for holding the Avdiivka coal mine slag heap and the adjacent coking factory, in an Oct. 13 public statement declared the 129th was still in its positions and that they had no plans to leave. They published images backing up what they said.
Vitaly Barabash, Avdiivka mayor, in comments aired on national television on Thursday evening said that the situation around the town was “extremely tense”, that over the day houses and businesses in Avdiivka had been hit “at least 20 times” by Russian artillery or rockets, and that explosions in the vicinity “was in the hundreds.” Ukrainian forces were holding their positions and would continue to do so, he said.
Russian air strikes were continuous and in the town territory 12 bombs had hit since Wednesday, Barabash said. Volunteer-recorded images showed a devastated city center and rail station, and a volunteer drone video showed Russian phosphorus shells striking Avdiivka.
Despite a massive ongoing Russian attack, Avdiivka remains under Ukrainian control, and even some civilians remain inside the destroyed city. pic.twitter.com/fOXp5yyoVM— Julian Röpcke🇺🇦 (@JulianRoepcke) October 13, 2023
SHOCKING ❗️— Maria Drutska 🇺🇦 (@maria_drutska) October 13, 2023
Avdiivka at night. The russians are dousing everything with phosphorus, they continue to use the scorched earth tactic because their assault is failing. pic.twitter.com/n4NE4bYBDf
Individual battle participant accounts from both sides described precise Ukrainian shell strikes striking Russian units moving over open ground. According to some reports, attacking Russian formations first were hit with fire as far as 10 km. from Ukrainian positions and drove through a gauntlet of shell and missile fire for the next 8 km, before turning back.
All accounts named the Russian decision to drive over open ground without cover, in daylight, against prepared and well-armed Ukrainian defenses, as a reason for limited Russian progress. Some video showed Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers parked stationary and nose-to-tail as Ukrainian shell bursts walked along the stalled vehicle column.
Other images showed MTLB armored personnel carriers retrofitted with steel plates as extra protection against shell splinters, smashed open and out of action following Ukrainian artillery strikes. One video showed a Russian armored vehicle retrofitted with a steel plate welded like a sunroof over the turret to protect occupants from top-attack munitions, demolished by a Ukrainian top-attack munition.
⚡️🇺🇦Ukrainian military personnel attack 🇷🇺Russian infantry fighting vehicles in the Avdiivka region. Work of the 116th brigade pic.twitter.com/PbO9z0Z1Go— 🇺🇦Ukrainian Front (@front_ukrainian) October 13, 2023
Although howitzer artillery firing conventional high explosive ammunition in quantity appeared to be the main Ukrainian weapon used, other images and reports confirmed that Kyiv troops hit some Russian attacks, at times with devastating effect, with American 155mm cluster munitions and Javelin anti-tank missiles. Other Russian vehicles were knocked out while maneuvering in minefields.
Independent estimates of Russian losses suffered over the now 96 hours of heavy combat placed Russian personnel killed and wounded at between 1,000-2,000 men, and 30-40 tanks and 90-100 armored personnel carriers of all types.
Ukrainian airmen operating drones configured to tote explosives by Friday had posted dozens of videos online geo-located to the Avdiivka sector and documenting the destruction of a multi-million dollar Russian tank or infantry fighting vehicle abandoned by its crew, with a grenade dropped into an open turret or onto an engine deck.
Dozens of Russian artillery pieces and light vehicles also were reported destroyed in the attacks. The last time the Russian military suffered such heavy combat vehicle losses was in fighting around the town of Vuhledar in mid-February 2023. In those battles, Ukrainian troops halted attacks led by Russian Marine infantry attempting to advance over open terrain interlaced with minefields.
According to a Friday morning statement made public by Ukraine’s Army General Staff, and covering combat activities across the entire front, Russian losses were accumulating at almost a record pace, with Ukrainian army official kill claims for the last 24 hours alone totaling 26 tanks, 49 light armored vehicles, 44 artillery systems, 1 air defense system and 17 drone aircraft. The day before that Ukrainian claims were 990 Russian soldiers killed or wounded, 42 tanks, 44 armored combat vehicles, 32 artillery systems and 25 “units of automotive equipment.”
Independent military blogger Andre Perpetua (@AndrewPerpetua) said Russian losses in Avdiivka over the 24 hours Tuesday through Wednesday were at least 15 tanks including modern T-90M, T-80VM and T-72B3M, 30 armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles, and “Russian human losses amount to almost 1000.”
“The Russian southern attack was a total failure. From the north they advanced in some areas 200 meters or in others 300 meters,” Perpetua said of the day’s fighting.
The bloodiest battles of the war thus far, for Russia took place in early March 2022, with losses reportedly of approximately1,000 men and 150-200 fighting vehicles of all types, piling up daily, for more than a week.
Ukrainian troops began digging in deeply in the Avdiika sector in 2014 following Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine. They stabilized the fighting lines between Kyiv forces and militia backed and armed by the Kremlin, and supported by Russian special operations troops.
Ukrainian fortifications around Avdiivka were under regular fire by Russian and militia artillery for the next eight years and over time were refitted with bunkers made of reinforced concrete.
When Russia launched its main force invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the lines held by Ukrainian troops at Avdiivka in October 2023 were practically unchanged from defensive positions taken up in late 2014 and widely considered to be among the best-built and strongest Ukrainian positions on the entire front.
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