The Battle Between Russia and Ukraine for Control of the Donetsk Industrial Suburb of Avdiivka
Dmitri Kovalevich, Orinoco Tribune, November 13, 2023 —
A large military operation by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Donetsk Republic has been underway for several months to capture Avdiivka, an industrial suburb of the capital city of Donetsk still held by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Since 2014, the governing coup regime in Ukraine has waged a terror campaign against the residents of Donetsk and its suburbs, using artillery, rockets, and sniper fire. Avdiivka has served as a key fortification of this campaign.
In October, one of the most difficult military issues facing Ukraine was the unfolding battle for control of the industrial suburb of Avdiivka (Avdeevka) in the Donetsk Republic (Donbass region). Armed forces of the Russian Federation and its Donetsk Republic commenced a military drive several months ago to liberate the suburb. This occurred as a much-publicized, self-declared ‘counteroffensive’ by Ukraine begun in early June of this year has soon stalled and was (is) petering out.
Avdiivka has served as a key fortification for Ukrainian forces while they continue to pound nearby Donetsk city and surrounding suburbs with artillery and rocket fire. Large amounts of money have been invested by Ukraine since 2015 to fortify Avdiivka.
Avdiivka is located some 20-25 kilometers west of the center of Donetsk city. For nine long years, beginning in 2014, the Ukrainian armed forces have steadily shelled the citizens of Donetsk city and the republic of the same name. There have been thousands of deaths. Western media has chosen all along not to report to its consumers what has been taking pace there. Instead, it presents a story of ‘Russian-backed separatists’ seeking to destroy Ukraine.
Absent from the Western news has been the simple fact that the citizens of Donetsk (and neighboring Lugansk Republic) did not wish to live under the illegal, coup government founded through a violent rebellion in Kiev in February 2014. They refused to submit to the authority of the coup government, and when the latter began to send its armed forces and paramilitaries against the population of the two republics, they resisted and fought back. Following some eight years of requests by the two republics, they were welcomed into membership of the Russian Federation in February 2022, on the eve of Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine. The main reason for the intervention was and remains to put an end to Ukraine’s military attacks, threats, and economic embargos against Donetsk, Lugansk, and nearby Crimea. Crimea voted in March 2014 to secede from the coup in Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
Since 2014, the Ukrainian army has built large fortifications in Avdiivka, including deep underground bunkers and passageways, protected by concrete walls five meters thick in places. This fact alone shows that from 2014 to 2022, Ukraine had no intention to fulfill the Minsk peace agreement of 2015, including stopping the shelling and rocket attacks against Donetsk and Lugansk.
The ‘Minsk 2’ agreement was signed by Ukraine and the two Donbass republics on February 12, 2015. Russia, France, and Germany agreed to co-sign as guarantors. The agreement was endorsed five days later by no less than the UN Security Council. The Western powers never lived up to their promises as guarantors and they encouraged Ukraine not to respect or implement the agreement.
The capture of Avdiivka and adjacent territories will ease the ongoing shellings of Donetsk, but in order to finally end all the attacks against the city and its suburbs, the Ukraine armed forces must also be driven from other settlements west of Donetsk, including Maryinka, Krasnogorovka, Karlivka and Kurakhovo. According to Alexander Matyushin, a Russian military officer from Donetsk, this would then place Ukraine’s artillery and multiple rocket launch systems (though not the U.S.-supplied ‘HIMARS’ rocket systems) outside the range of Donetsk city.
Viktor Vodolatsky, an elected member of the Russian State Duma, explains that Avdiivka was made into a fortress under the guidance of Western military specialists and that it is very difficult to storm it. “Avdiivka is a strategic point for the Armed Forces of Ukraine [AFU] in which they have invested a huge amount of Western funds and built well-protected bunkers and passageways. Tens of thousands of tons of concrete have been poured there. Therefore, it is absurd to expect that Russia would take the city tomorrow.”
According to data in mid-October, about 1,000 civilians remained in the city, refusing to evacuate and hiding in basements from Ukrainian troops. They live without basic electricity, heating, and water supply.
On the Russian Federation side, the battle for Avdiivka is being largely waged by military forces from Donetsk. They are defending their homeland and thus have additional motivation to participate in the battle.
The Ukrainian military has recorded the use by Russians forces of remote-controlled transport vehicles used to storm the most difficult areas of Avdiivka. In late October, Donetsk battalions captured the slag (waste) heap located on the suburb’s northern perimeter, adjacent to a large, coke-producing complex. The slag heap is the highest point in the city. Red flags and the flag of Russia were planted on the heap following its capture. Ukraine then used several drones to destroy them.
In Ukraine, the battle for Avdiivka is being compared to the earlier, months-long and bloody battle for control over the city of Bakhmut, which ended in May of this year with a Russian victory. Bakhmut, pre-war population of some 70,000, is situated some 70 km north of Donetsk and was similarly fortified.
Russian and Donetsk forces are slowly creating lines to squeeze or entirely block the re-supply routes into Avdiivka of weapons, ammunition and troops, just as they did earlier at Bakhmut. The Ukrainian Telegram channel ‘Legitimny’ reports on October 13, “The Russian Armed Forces have launched an operation called ‘The road to Avdiivka’. Most recently, they have begun to pressure the flanks of Ukraine’s defenses. The AFU has managed to hold many of its lines, but the losses from enormous artillery and rocket fire from the Russian side are huge. No military expert dares to predict that the flanks of the AFU pockets may hold. The risk of them not holding is high.”
Sure enough, on November 2, the same Telegram channel reported that the Ukrainian defenses of the city were beginning to collapse. Reserve forces of Ukraine transferred from the direction of Zaporizhzhya have managed to stop the Russian advances in Avdiivka for a time, but the situation has not fundamentally altered in Ukraine’s favor. According to the Telegram channel’s authors, Kiev will need to constantly send reserves into the city. This will weaken other fronts and open them up to Russian advances.
As in the battle for Bakhmut, the tactics of the Ukrainian armed forces are reduced to throwing new and poorly trained units of conscripted soldiers into the semi-encircled city at a high risk of death or injury. Many reservists do not even make it to the city. The only road open to Avdiivka for Ukraine has become a lengthy graveyard of Western-supplied military equipment. The Ukrainian Telegram channel ‘ZeRada‘ wrote on October 25, “It is morally difficult for the Ukrainian military to advance into Avdiivka as they must use a road strewn with burned-out vehicles and incoming soldiers soon become aware that it will be even harder for them to get back out.”
Senior lieutenant and volunteer in the Donetsk armed forces Alexander Matyushin told an interviewer on November 2 that most of the Western-supplied military equipment shipped to Avdiivka is being destroyed on the way to the city, with the help of Russian drones. “Our drone pilots are now competing among themselves as to who can destroy more Leopard tanks (supplied by Germany and other European countries) and other armored vehicles. The tanks and armored vehicles are being transferred from the Zaporizhzhya front [more than 100 km to the west of Donetsk city].”
“Of note also, with the help of a kamikaze drone, we were able to destroy a Ukrainian telecommunications tower in the south of Avdiivka, leaving one of the Ukrainian military units without communication. During radio intercepts, our militaries have heard Polish as well as Spanish being spoken by these soldiers on the other side.”
For the Ukrainian authorities, the fall of Avdiivka will be a serious blow to the image of the war they are waging. President Volodomyr Zelensky’s former adviser Oleksiy Arestovich, who resigned and left for Europe several months ago, is reported on Telegram on October 24 saying that the fall of Avdiivka would be a harsh verdict on the corrupt Ukrainian government system in place ever since the demise of the Soviet Union.
Arestovich says the impunity of Ukrainian officials and politicians for systemic corruption, for squandering the resources of the AFU and for presiding over a drastic decline of the Ukraine economy have led to a situation where Ukraine is now losing cities one by one. All are being lost along by the same military pattern. “The prospect of losing Avdiivka after losing Popasna, Severodonetsk, Lisichansk and Bakhmut is a verdict against the current government system,” he says.
The loss of Avdiivka, which is the largest Ukrainian fortification in Donbass, after a nearly five-month uninterrupted and highly ineffective ‘counteroffensive’ by the AFU is a powerful blow to Kiev’s reputation writes the Ukrainian Telegram channel Klymenko-Time on October 30.
Former Ukrainian MP Igor Mosiychuk, a right-wing Ukrainian nationalist, says that the participants in the fighting for Avdiivka are testifying to the chaos, heavy losses and strategic mistakes in the defense of the city. According to him, the fall of Avdiivka is only a matter of time but Ukrainian propagandists have the population living in a dream world. “The fall of Avdiivka will be a verdict against the financial and military support being provided to Ukraine,” he says.
Ukrainian experts also report disagreements between the political leadership and military leadership in Ukraine. The military believes that it is not worth sacrificing its forces for the sake of holding Avdiivka, but for government authorities, the ‘effectiveness’ of the military needs to be demonstrated to the West in order to keep the flow of money and military assistance flowing.
As a result, tensions are growing in Ukraine between the military and the country’s political leadership, as even external observers have noted. The Polish publication Interia recently published an interview with Polish writer Szczepan Twardoch under the telling headline: ‘The military hates Zelensky’. Twardoch regularly travels to Ukraine and communicates with the military at the front. The Polish writer writes there are many soldiers in the Ukrainian army who do not want to fight because it is now an army largely comprised of conscripts, with fewer and fewer volunteers remaining in it.
Polish newspaper Myśl Polska recently published an analysis headlined, ‘A turning point of the war over Ukraine?’ The writer begins with, “It is highly probable that we are dealing with a breakthrough clash in the Russian-Ukrainian war. The outcome of this battle may, in my subjective opinion, be a turning point in the war for Ukraine, just like the battle for the city of Debaltsevo in January-February 2015. The capture of Avdiivka by the Russians, just like Debaltsevo in 2015, maybe the end of hostilities and the beginning of diplomatic solutions…” [The military defeat of Ukraine at Debaltsevo in early 2015 compelled the coup regime in Kiev, against its will, to sign the ‘Minsk 2’ agreement.]
Unfortunately and tragically, peace talks are not part of the West’s plans for Ukraine. For it, the war is all about weakening Russia, and the governing regime in Ukraine led by Zelensky is all in. Thirteen months ago, the regime issued a decree banning any peace negotiations with Russian leaders. Former German Chancellor Gerhardt Schröder revealed in an interview in late October that back in March 2022, the United States instructed Kiev to withdraw from peace talks with Russia that were taking place in Istanbul.
All this and more reveals just how little remains of ‘Ukraine independence’. During the past nine years, the coup leaders in Ukraine have voluntarily submitted the country and its economy to subjugation to the United States and the other leading countries of the NATO military alliance.
Dmitri Kovalevich is the special correspondent in Ukraine for Al Mayadeen English. He writes a monthly situation report for the publication; this is his report for October 2023.)