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Troop movements in the Avdiivka Region

Avdiivka is (or was) a small city to the north of Donetsk in the Donetsk Oblast in southeastern Ukraine, held by the Ukrainian Armed Forces against more or less relentless assault firstly by Russian-backed militias and then by the Russian Armed Forces for a decade until it fell in December 2023 / January 2024 to Russian control. There was little serious strategic reason for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to maintain control of what in effect is a suburb of Donetsk, the stronghold city of Russian occupied Ukraine, save for the fact that served remarkably effectively as what one might describe as a “reverse bridgehead”: that is is to say, by maintaining control of Avdiivka and a single road passing in and out of the city from free Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces preventing the Russians effectively from progressing further into free Ukrainian territory to the west of the city of Donetsk because Avdiivka was a prominent position from which to launch artillery and mortar attacks upon any troops advancing in those directions.

We are informed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces that over the Catholic Easter weekend there have been assaults by the Russian Armed Forces on the villages in the region of Avdiivka of Nevelske,  Pervomaiske, Umanske and Berdyche. If one studies carefully the locations of these villages on a map relative to road positions then one can ascertain the approximate structure of the Russian advance now that Avdiivka has been secured.

Before the conflict, there were three principal roads from Donetsk north or west. One is the N15, which runs directly west to Zaporizhzhia. The Russians have been unable to make significant progress along this road, encountering resistance at Marinka, a small city just to the west of Donetsk on the N15 that seems to have changed hands repeatedly recently but by all accounts is now completely destroyed and nobody lives there anymore. Marinka is apparently held by the Russians at the current time but they have run into resistance on the western outskirts of the city and they are fighting it hard to progress west from there. Another is the E50 running northwest from Donetsk, but this is a poor rural-standard road (in Ukraine such roads are generally very bad) and it leads to the settlement of Pokrovsk which remains in free Ukraine.

By attacking the settlements of Pervomaiske and Nevelske the Russians are showing a determination to dominate the E50 road which it is adjacent to, although that road is probably only passable by military vehicles, even in the summer season, given the likely extent of its heavy bombardment. Nevertheless Pokrovsk would be a major tactical acquisition for the Russian Armed Forces, particularly given that it has a direct road with Kostiantynivka, the T-0504, to the northeast. It is known that the Russians have their eyes on Kostiantynivka as a major strategic goal, with a view to dominating outstanding free Donbas by launching an attack from Kostiantynivka upon Kramatorsk to the north and from positions east of Sloviansk which is another city under Ukrainian control adjacent to Kramatorsk.

The third road out of Donetsk towards free Ukraine is the H20 which heads directly towards Kostiantynivka northwards from Donetsk but has effectively been blocked from passage and held by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the hamlet of Niu-York and the adjacent town of Toretsk which itself is a suburb of Russian-occupied Horlivka. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have been remarkably adept at holding Toretsk and Niu-York notwithstanding their being in proximity to Russian-occupied Horlivka, and therefore the occupation of Avdiivka by the Russian Armed Forces gives them an opportunity to bypass the blockage they have experienced in progressing towards Kostiantynivka on the H20 by bypassing Niu-York and Toretsk via the E50, Pokrovsk and the the T-0504.

In this way Kostiantynivka can become the subject of another front as well as those fronts being pushed from Bakhmut, the Russian-occupied city devastated in the battle for Bakhmut in 2022 and the early part of 2023 and which has very little in the way of facilities or logistics and where there is still fighting underway, in particular in the vicinity of its western suburb of Ivanivske which at the time of writing is still not fully occupied by Russian troops and is reportedly partially controlled by pockets of troops controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Umanske was the route via which the only road in and out of Avdiivka run while Avdiivka was free, and therefore it is natural that the Russians will want to close this pocket of territory as otherwise it will represent an ongoing danger for a Ukrainian counter-offensive against Avdiivka. Were the Ukrainians to be able to keep Avdiivka under contest, they effectively restrain all continuing Russian advances in the region which is why they fought to hold on for it for so long.

Finally, the fact that there remains fighting in Berdychi, a suburb off Avdiivka very close to the centre of the city, demonstrates that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are determined to retain some sort of control of or the military situation in the Avdiivka area or at least a constant threat to Russian military dominance. The fact that the Russians have progressed a few kilometres from one village to the next illustrates that they have some capacity for armour-based advancement but they have still not flushed out all Ukrainian Armed Forces in close proximity to Avdiivka and they seem unable to make progress along major roads towards their real prize which is Kostiantynivka.

It will be a long hard summer season ahead in Donetsk Oblast, with any movement on the part of the Russians by reason of their superiority in armour and artillery nevertheless being painfully slow. The Czech Armed Forces have promised artillery rounds to Ukraine and it is taking some weeks for those to be manufactured and delivered. Trying to obtain a tactical advantage in the meantime may be a reason why the Russians are pushing forward so hard now.


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