Ukrainian soldiers defending the frontline city of Avdiivka are bracing for a new “massive attack”, after Russian forces threw their might at it earlier this month but failed to break though.

Ukraine last week said Russia had stepped up assaults on the frontline city, which lies just 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Moscow-held Donetsk.

Avdiika has been a symbol of Ukrainian resistance since 2014, after it briefly fell to Russian-backed separatists.

On the morning of October 10, dozens of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles advanced on the city in columns from the south, north and northwest, supported by artillery fire and bombardments from helicopters and planes.

Major Maxim Morozov, a commander of a special police unit in the city, said: “We have to expect more attacks.”

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“We know that the Russians have amassed huge reserves -- both in personnel and military equipment,” he told AFP in Pokrovsk, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Avdiivka.

Morozov said the huge Russian attack was a “shock to everyone”.

“There were up to 50 air strikes,” on the city that day, he said.

Yuriy Shtepa, 55, was in a trench northwest of the city as the Russians advanced.

“We quickly knew that (Russian) military equipment was arriving. We could hear it five to seven kilometres (three to four miles) away,” said Shtepa, who leads a fire support group in a brigade of Ukraine’s territorial defence forces.

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- ‘Every three to five minutes’ -

Donning yellow protective glasses and a flat cap, Shtepa gesticulated forcefully as he recalled the Russian attack.

“Ours started to target them. The artillery worked well for us. They (the Russians) did not succeed. But when there are 30-40 vehicles, it’s a little difficult.”

There was a “plane every 15 minutes or so, and helicopters every three to five minutes”, he added.

The Russians were only able to take a few square kilometres (square miles) in that attack.

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Photos and videos posted on social media a few days later showed the costs of Moscow’s failed attempt to seize the city.

The United States Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Russia had “likely lost at least a battalion tactical group’s worth of armoured vehicles in offensive operations around Avdiivka”.

Avdiivka, built around a huge coke plant, had a pre-war population of around 30,000 people. Around 1,600 remain, according to local authorities.

- People living ‘permanently in basements’ -

In the city centre, large blocks of buildings have been partially or fully destroyed by daily Russian artillery shelling and a bombing campaign from the air since March.

The remaining residents “live permanently in basements,” and the “delivery of humanitarian aid has been interrupted” since October 10, Morozov said.

“The stocks of food, water, medicines and hygiene items that have been accumulated in basements... will certainly be enough for a month,” he added

Avdiivka has been a frontline city for years.

It was seized by pro-Moscow separatists in 2014.

It also saw heavy fighting in 2017, during a flare-up between Kyiv and the separatists of the eastern Donetsk region.

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The industrial region was among those Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was annexing in September 2022, a move condemned as illegal and illegitimate by Kyiv and its Western allies.

- ‘Inexhaustible’ Russian resources -

Ukraine maintains control of the only access road to the city from the north, according to Morozov.

“The Russians failed to conquer the heights,” he said.

During the Russian attack earlier this month, soldiers dug two-metre (6.5-foot) deep trenches in a field to protect themselves, Shtepa said.

“We installed anti-drone nets. The Russians choose a position (to attack) and launch everything -- mortars, grenades, kamikaze drones.”

Russian soldiers generally “crawl in small groups, without bulletproof vests, without helmets, nothing”, he added.

“One with grenades, another with a rifle, and a third, a little further back, covering them.”

Morozov, who is about to return to Avdiivka, said the situation has been calmer in the last few days.

“There are only a few aerial bombardments, around four to six (per day). Tank and artillery strikes continue.“.

“There are no more massive assaults. The enemy is taking a break.”

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But Shtepa’s deputy, 53-year-old Anatolii Mogyla, fears Russia will “certainly” launch a fresh assault on the city.

“So far, (the Russians) have been crushed. But they have inexhaustible human resources,” Mogyla said.

Russia has “no strategic plan”, he added.

“They just need to show a victory.”

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