Russian forces have gained ground around the Ukrainian-controlled town of Avdiivka, new maps show, as Kyiv’s counteroffensive against Moscow’s troops moves into the tougher winter months.
Russian forces advanced north and southwest of the Donetsk town of Avdiivka on Friday, also claiming some advances north and south of the city on Saturday, according to the U.S.-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War.
In recent days, fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces has intensified around the eastern town of Avdiivka, in what has been described as a major Russian offensive effort on the key settlement. At least three Russian battalions are thought to be involved in the push, which follows months of the Kremlin’s troops battling back against Ukraine’s attempts to gain ground in Donetsk and the southern Zaporizhzhia region.
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his troops were “improving their position in almost the entire area” of the front line. Taking control of Avdiivka would be a significant victory for Russian fighters in Donetsk, and a real blow to Ukrainian soldiers now more than four months into the counteroffensive effort.
Ukraine had seen the Russian attack on Avdiivka coming, a spokesperson for Kyiv’s military intelligence agency said earlier this week, and there are indications that it had prepared for the assault, such as by laying mines, the ISW said.
Around 1,600 residents are still living in Avdiivka, Vitaliy Barabash, who heads up the town’s military administration, has previously estimated. It had a pre-war population of around 30,000.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces “unsuccessfully” tried to break through its defenses around Avdiivka. Kyiv’s forces fended off 15 Russian attacks around Avdiivka and surrounding settlements, the military said.
Barabash said on Saturday that Russian forces “are striking with everything they have.”
There is no information confirming that Russia controls the Avdiivka Coke Plant to the northwest of the city, despite “conflicting reports” from Russian sources, the ISW said on Friday.
Newsweek has contacted the Russian Ministry of Defense via email for comment.
As the assault got underway, Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s office, said earlier this week that Avdiivka was “under mass attacks of Russian artillery and aviation.”
“Our army is now holding positions in difficult battles,” Yermak wrote in a post to the Telegram messaging app on Friday.
Late on Saturday night local time, Zelensky placed Avdiivka at the top of the list of fighting hotspots, saying: “I thank everyone who is holding their positions and destroying Russian troops.”