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Ukrainians Withdraw from Avdiivka After Four Month Battle with Russia

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine’s military commander announced early Saturday that he would withdraw troops from the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, where outnumbered defense forces have been fighting Russian aggression for four months.

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.

In a short statement posted on Facebook, the commander of Ukraine’s military, Colonel Oleksandr Shirsky, said the decision was taken to avoid a siege and “protect the lives and health of our service members.”

The commander added that troops were moving to “more favorable fronts.”

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

“We are taking steps to stabilize the situation and maintain our position,” the statement said.

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.

It was Shirsky’s first major test since he was appointed as Ukraine’s new army commander last week.

In his previous role as commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, he faced criticism for defending the city of Bakhmut for nine months, but the siege was the longest and bloodiest battle of the war, inflicting heavy losses on Ukraine. Moreover, it also exhausted the physical strength of the Russian army.

Reports have recently surfaced that Ukrainian forces in Avdiika are facing a deteriorating situation.

Deputy Commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade Rodion Kudryashov said on Friday that Ukrainian forces were still holding out against the onslaught of about 15,000 Russian soldiers, but that the situation would “soon become critical.” He said he expected it.

“The enemy is trying to break through our defenses and in some places to bypass our positions,” he told The Associated Press.

The 3rd Brigade announced on its social media accounts on Friday that the soldiers were at the giant Avdiivka coke factory. According to the brigade, Russian jets have been dropping around 60 bombs a day, relentlessly shelling the area and launching attacks by armored and infantry troops.

Video footage showed thick black smoke billowing into the sky above the factory, which was said to be caused by a fire in a bunker. “Toxic smog spreads throughout the factory,” the post said.

Russian media have reported that Kremlin forces are making extensive use of plane-launched glide bombs that fly at shallower angles to attack Ukrainian positions.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Russian forces are beginning to overwhelm Ukraine’s defenses in eastern cities. He said Avdiivka was at risk of falling to Russia, and said the development was “mainly caused” by the fact that Ukrainian forces were running out of artillery shells.

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.

Heavily fortified with a network of tunnels and concrete fortifications, Avdiivka is located on the northern outskirts of the city of Donetsk, in a region of the same name that is partially occupied by Russian forces. The capture of Avdiivka could be a timely boost for Moscow and could trigger Russia to move deeper into the region.

Donetsk Governor Vadim Filashkin said fewer than 1,000 people remained in the city. The city, which had a pre-war population of around 31,000 people, is now a bombed-out remnant of its former life.

Aerial footage of Avdiivka obtained by The Associated Press in December shows an apocalyptic scene, with the bodies of about 150 soldiers, most wearing Russian military uniforms, hidden in trees. were scattered along the coast, indicating staggering Russian losses.

But the Institute for War Studies, a Washington think tank, said on Thursday that the capture of Avdiivka was a symbolic victory for the Kremlin and would not result in significant changes to the 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) front. I haven’t moved much in the past few months.

“A possible Russian occupation of Avdiivka is of no operational importance and would probably only provide the Kremlin with an immediate informational and political victory,” the institute said in its assessment.

“Even if Russian forces were to occupy the settlement, it is highly unlikely that Russian forces would make a rapid operationally significant advance from Avdiivka, and at best the chances of Russia seizing Avdiivka would be limited to further limited tactical “It will set conditions for the benefit of the public,” he added.

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