Russian troops captured fortified positions held by Ukrainian forces for more than eight years on the southeastern edge of Avdiivka, near the Yasynuvata-2 railway station, official and open source reports said on Monday.

Russian infantry backed by tanks, strong artillery and systematic air strikes pushed Ukrainian troops out of nearly 90 percent of the city’s southeastern industrial district, reports said.

At the other side of the city, in the northern industrial area surrounding the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical plant, the Russians continue to threaten an already tenuous supply lifeline for Kyiv forces in the sector.

Moscow-loyal milbloggers claimed that Russian forces had captured the entire territory of the coke plant as well as portions of an adjacent rail yard, and were close to breaking the Ukrainians’ hold on the village Stepove, further to the northwest. Ukrainian sources claim the situation is “difficult” but claim they still control the plant.

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If consolidated, the Russian gains would leave thousands of Kyiv’s troops dug in throughout central Avdiivka, at the bottom of a funnel-shaped terrain pocket less than 15 kilometers wide, and under real risk of encirclement.

Located near the Donetsk region’s largest city Donetsk, Avdiivka has been on the front lines between Ukrainian and Russian-led forces since 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine.

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Last month, US lawmakers approved a $61 billion military aid package for Kyiv after months of congressional debate, addressing critical shortages faced by Ukrainian forces.

In October of this year, Russia kicked off a local offensive with the objectives of pushing Ukrainian forces away from Donetsk and, ideally, killing and wounding so many Ukrainian soldiers that the losses would bring Kyiv to the negotiating table.

Differing accounts

Ukrainian accounts of the fighting were mixed. Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) sources said their troops were still holding out, without mentioning any lost ground. A local official reported that the Russian firepower advantage in the sector was dangerous, but lines held by Kyiv forces were largely holding so far.

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Kremlin-controlled Telegram channels by Sunday evening were declaring victory, claiming Avdiivka’s entire industrial district to the north of the city along with a tactically important slag heap dominating surrounding flat terrain, was fully under Russian Federation (RF) troops.

Both Russian and Ukrainian sources said Ukrainian troops inside Avdiivka still were receiving supplies, but that Russian control of the city’s industrial district and the slag heap dominating the surrounding terrain would make continued Kyiv defense of the sector more difficult.

Russian “military correspondent” Vladislav Ugolniy in a Nov. 25 post in his personal blog wrote: “Its (Avdiivka’s southern industrial district) capture deprives the Ukrainians in the southeast of Avdiivka of a powerful defense line located on a hill… from the industrial district we will be able to effectively adjust the fire of our artillery, forcing the Ukrainian to suffer very much. As a result, they will either have to leave this area, letting us into the city, or sit under 152mm (artillery fire) and suffer.”

In its Monday morning regular situation estimate, Ukraine’s Army General Staff said Ukrainian forces were still holding in the Avdiivka sector under heavy Russian pressure, but made no mention of lost ground: “In the Avdiivka direction, the enemy, with the support of aviation, does not stop trying to surround Avdiivka.  “Our soldiers firmly hold the defense, inflicting significant losses on the occupiers. The offensive actions of the enemy… were unsuccessful, where the defense forces repelled 30 attacks.” 

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Vitaly Barabash, head of the Avdiivka city administration, in comments in a Sunday evening television news program, said intense ground battles were still in progress in extreme weather conditions with blowing snow and high winds. Ukrainian forces were holding, he said.

“The occupiers are using heavy bombs and air strikes. The coke plant is almost completely destroyed. Therefore it’s not as easy to hold for defense as when it was like a fortress. Now it is in ruins,” Barabash said, during a Sunday evening interview on the Espresso TV channel.

“In daylight hours there is a lot of artillery and rocket artillery… there is no silence at the positions of the Ukrainian defenders either day or night – the enemy is on the move 24 hours a day,” Barabash said in Monday comments reported by Channel 5 television.

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A video, purportedly recorded by a group of soldiers from Ukraine’s 110th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said heavy Russian attacks were breaking down Ukrainian combat formations and that local withdrawal in the Avdiivka sector was unavoidable, no matter what Kyiv ordered. The recording was undated.

Another open source video geolocated to the Avdiivka sector, and published since Saturday, documented Russian use of incendiary white phosphorus artillery shells against Ukrainian positions. and Russian tanks seemingly moving freely in the city’s southeastern suburbs.

The Ukrainian open source military intelligence platform DeepState reported on Saturday that Russian troops had achieved “partial success” in the southern Adviivka industrial sector, and that Ukrainian troops at some locations retreated into surrounding residential district suburbs. Serious fighting still is in progress and Ukrainian troops still hold fortified positions in some parts of the industrial district, a Monday situation update said.

Outgunned five to one

According to the weight of evidence, reports said, attacking Russian troops outnumber Ukrainian troops five to one, are able to launch air strikes with impunity, and possess strong advantages in howitzers, cannon and artillery ammunition.

Russian tanks are able to approach Ukrainian positions to near point-blank range and Ukrainian troops in the Avdiivka sector seem to lack anti-tank rockets and missiles needed to defend themselves, one DeepState report said.

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“It appears, that (Ukraine’s) Western partners are unable to supply a sufficient number of anti-armor systems… as we wrote earlier, loss of the industrial sector was only a matter of time,” another report said.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in a Sunday situation estimate confirmed reports of Russian advances in the Avdiivka sector, thanks to massed firepower and weakening Ukrainian defenses.

Ukraine’s Western allies in the past 18 months have slowly armed the Ukrainian military with Western weapons. In the Adviivka sector, according to open source reports, two combat brigades – the 47th and the 110th – are widely reported to be kitted out with high-end NATO-standard combat vehicles including the German Leopard 2 tank, the US-made Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, as well as towed and self-propelled howitzers firing the highly effective NATO-standard artillery shell.

According to soldier reports from both sides of the fighting, modern Western equipment operated by the Ukrainian military is limited in effectiveness due to near-total Russian air superiority over the battlefield, and ongoing shortages of 155mm howitzer ammunition.

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