Avdiivka becoming ‘post-apocalyptic’
Ukraine shut the eastern town of Avdiivka to non-military personnel yesterday, describing it as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, as Kyiv seeks to break the back of Russia's flagging winter offensive before a counterassault of its own.
A top Ukrainian general said Kyiv was planning its next move after Moscow appeared to shift focus from the small city of Bakhmut, which Russia has failed to capture after half a year of the war's bloodiest fighting, to Avdiivka further south.
Front lines in Ukraine have barely budged for more than four months despite a Russian winter offensive using hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited as mercenaries from jail. The Ukrainian military aims to wear down Russian forces before a counteroffensive in coming weeks or months.
Ukrainian ground forces commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who said last week that the counterattack could come "very soon", visited front line troops in the east and said his forces were still repelling Russian attacks on Bakhmut.
Defending the small city in the industrialised Donbas region that Russia has tried to seize for months was a "military necessity", said Syrskyi, praising Ukrainian resilience in "extremely difficult conditions".
Last week, the Ukrainian military warned that Avdiivka, a smaller town 90 km further south, could become a "second Bakhmut" as Russia turns its attention there. Both towns have been reduced to rubble in fighting that both sides have called a "meat grinder".
"I am sad to say this, but Avdiivka is becoming more and more like a place from post-apocalyptic movies," said Vitaliy Barabash, head of the city's military administration. Only around 2,000 of a pre-war population of 30,000 remain and he urged them to leave.
Inside Russia, residents of Kireyevsk, in Tula region 220 km south of Moscow, reacted angrily to damage from what the defence ministry said was a Ukrainian drone it downed there on Sunday. The ministry said three people were injured and apartment blocks were hit. It was among the closest such incidents to the Russian capital so far.
Two people were killed and 32 wounded yesterday after Russian forces fired two S-300 missiles at the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk northwest of Bakhmut, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video of smouldering debris and vowed that "Ukraine will not forgive" such attacks. Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Zelensky visited the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region yesterday, his third trip to the front line in less than a week. He awarded soldiers and discussed nuclear safety with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi, who also travelled to the area, home to Europe's biggest nuclear power plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces for the past year.