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Ukraine withdraws troops from Avdiivka as ammunition shortage bites

As the war approaches its second anniversary, Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the town of Avdiivka, a key battleground in the country’s east that could pave the way for a Russian advance.

Kiev said the withdrawal was announced as Congress delayed U.S. military aid for months and as Ukraine faces a severe ammunition shortage and is completely surrounded by Russian forces after months of intense fighting. The purpose was to save the troops.

Most of the prewar population of 32,000 have already left, and the town is almost completely destroyed.

On December 29, 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (second from left) looks at a map during a visit to the Ukrainian 110th Mechanized Brigade in Avdiivka, the site of a fierce battle with Russian forces in Donetsk region, Ukraine. (Ukraine Presidential Press Office, via AP)

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Last week, General Oleksandr Shirschiy, who took command of Ukraine’s military in a major overhaul, announced the withdrawal as a tactical move to save the lives of soldiers in a town that has been under heavy attack for months.

“To avoid a siege and to protect the lives and health of our military personnel, I have decided to withdraw my troops from the town and move to more favorable front lines of defense.”

“Our soldiers performed their military service with dignity and did everything possible to destroy the elite units of the Russian army, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment,” he said.

Russia stepped up its offensive on Avdiivka in October, and Ukraine’s position has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks.

The 3rd Assault Brigade, a prominent Ukrainian infantry assault force, was rushed into the town this week to help reinforce troops as other Ukrainian forces retreated from the southeast of the town. The unit described the fighting as “hell” and said on social media that in some places Ukrainian garrisons outnumbered Russian troops by as much as 6 to 100.

Ukrainian soldiers sit at a position in Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, August 18, 2023. Ukraine's military is under intense pressure due to a determined Russian effort to storm the strategically important eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, officials said.

As the war approaches its second anniversary, Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the town of Avdiivka, a key battleground in the country’s east that could pave the way for a Russian advance. (AP Photo/Rivcos)

After Navalny’s death, Biden says there is “no doubt” that “Putin and his thugs” were behind it.

The withdrawal is seen as a major victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin and is the largest since Russia captured the city of Bakhmut in May 2023.

The timing is critical, as Russia is seeking a boost in morale ahead of the second anniversary of the Russian military’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24th and the Russian presidential election in March. It also follows news that opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a critic of President Putin, has died at the age of 47.

This came days after National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the town was at risk of falling under Russian control.

“This is happening because Ukrainian forces on the ground are running out of shells,” Kirby said at a Thursday news conference.

“Russia is sending wave after wave of conscripts to attack Ukrainian positions, but Congress has yet to pass any additional legislation that Ukraine desperately needs to thwart Russian attacks.” has not been able to provide Ukraine with the shells it has.”

The United States is Ukraine’s single largest donor, but about $60 billion in funding for Kiev has been held up by political differences among U.S. lawmakers.

Earlier this month, all 27 members of the European Union agreed on a 50 billion euro ($54 billion) financial aid package for Ukraine.

The withdrawal came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy returned to Western Europe on Friday with the aim of pressuring Western allies to continue providing military support.

Oleksandr Shirushkyi

Last week, General Oleksandr Shirschiy, who took command of Ukraine’s military in a major overhaul, announced the withdrawal as a tactical move to save the lives of soldiers in a town that has been under heavy attack for months. (Yuri Mate/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

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Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, President Zelensky said the war posed a threat to the whole world and appealed to Western countries to help Ukraine defeat President Putin.

“How long will the world leave Russia like this? This is the main question of today,” President Zelenskiy said.

“People of the world, please don’t ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself: Why can Putin still continue the war? There is no need to fear Putin’s defeat and the collapse of his regime. “No. Instead, let us work together to destroy it.” May our world never become the world of yesterday.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC). (Sven Hoppe/Photo in association with Getty Images)

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