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Ukraine withdraws from eastern city Avdiivka to 'save our people'


Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, is seen as symbolically important. /Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters
Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, is seen as symbolically important. /Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters

Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, is seen as symbolically important. /Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters

Ukraine withdrew troops from the besieged eastern stronghold of Avdiivka to save the lives of its soldiers, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday, handing Russia its biggest symbolic victory since May.

The pullback comes after Russian forces stepped up efforts to capture the eastern industrial hub in October, leading to mass casualties and destruction.

Facing ammunition shortages and outnumbered on the battlefield, Ukrainian forces announced they had  withdrawn in the early hours of Saturday.

"The ability to save our people is the most important task for us," Zelenskiy told a security conference in Munich, explaining the move.

"In order to avoid being surrounded, it was decided to withdraw to other lines. This does not mean that people retreated some kilometers and Russia captured something, it did not capture anything," he also said.


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This echoed earlier statements from the newly-appointed commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrsky, who said he "decided to withdraw our units from the city and switch to defense on more favorable lines."

"The life of military personnel is the highest value," Syrksy said.

It was Syrsky's first major decision since his appointment, at a time when Ukraine faces mounting pressures in the east because of ammunition shortages, with a $60 billion U.S. military aid package held up in Washington.


'The right decision'

Commander Oleksandr Tarnavsky supported the move, saying Russian troops were "advancing over the corpses of their own soldiers with a 10-to-one shelling advantage."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Ukrainian serviceman deployed on the eastern frontline said that "it was the right decision given the lack of weapons and artillery shells, because if we don't save the lives of the soldiers, we will soon have no one left to fight. But if we keep losing ground, we will lose this war."

Avdiivka lies in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which the Kremlin has claimed to be part of Russia since 2022. In July 2014 is was briefly controlled by pro-Russian separatists before returning to Ukrainian control, where it has remained ever since.

After the failure of Kyiv's counter-offensive in the summer, Russian forces went on the attack, facing a Ukrainian army struggling to replenish its ranks and running low on ammunition.

"I am surprised that Avdiivka has held out for two years," said Oleksii, a 50-year-old sergeant in the Donetsk region.


Important symbolic value

The battle for Avdiivka, less than 10 kilometers north of the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, has been one of the bloodiest of the conflict, now in its third year. Many compare it to the battle for Bakhmut, in which tens of thousands of soldiers were killed.

Avdiivka had around 30,000 inhabitants before the Russian advance. Most of the city has since been destroyed and fewer than 1,000 residents remain, according to local authorities.

The city has important symbolic value, and Moscow hopes its capture will make Ukraine's bombing of Donetsk more difficult. Questions however remain on whether or not it will give a strategic advantage to Russian forces to press further in eastern Ukraine.

To fend off these attacks, Ukrainian officials are redoubling pleas for much-needed military aid. The fall of Avdiivka comes as Zelensky tries to rally allies in Munich for more aid. The day before, he had signed bilateral security pacts with France and Germany to lock in support for Kyiv.

Ukraine withdraws from eastern city Avdiivka to 'save our people'

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Source(s): AFP
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