The eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka was brutally attacked by Russian forces on Friday, the fourth day of fierce combat in the largest offensive by Russian forces in months.
Although Ukraine claimed that its forces were maintaining their ground, Vitaliy Barabash, the military administrator of Avdiivka, claimed that the town was constantly being attacked by airstrikes, artillery, and a sizable number of troops.
“The battles have been going on for four days now. Fierce and really non-stop … They are firing from everything they have available,” Barabash said in televised comments.
“It was a very hot night in Avdiivka. There were several air strikes on the city itself … the attacks do not stop day or night.”
The attack on Avdiivka is one of the few big assaults Russia has mounted since Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive in early June to try to drive out Russian troops occupying large swathes of territory in the east and south.
In the last few months, Russia has focused on holding back Ukrainian forces who have made slow progress through Russian minefields and heavily fortified trenches, and on carrying out air strikes on port and grain infrastructure.
But Kyiv says Moscow has massed troops around Avdiivka and sent in heavy equipment, enabling it to hit back hard.
It says Moscow aims to encircle and capture the town, just northwest of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, and draw in Ukrainian troops from other fronts.
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.
Avdiivka is home to a big coking plant and has become a symbol of resistance as it has prevented Russia taking full control of the Donetsk region, which Russia says it has annexed.
The town has not only held out against Russia’s forces since its full-scale invasion in February 2022 but has resisted capture since 2014, when Russian-backed militants seized territory in east Ukraine after Russian forces captured Crimea.
“The Russians threw a lot of forces in this direction. They are betting on quantity. Our army is holding positions in heavy fighting,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential office, wrote on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.
“Avdiivka. A Ukrainian city. Our land,” he wrote.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday its forces had inflicted damage on Ukrainian troops in areas including Avdiivka but gave few details. Russian military bloggers have hailed limited Russian advances near Avdiivka this week.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said their troops had in the past 24 hours repelled more than 20 Russian attacks in the area around Avdiivka and nearby villages.
Barabash said that one person had been confirmed killed, and that two civilians who were trapped under rubble were also likely to be dead.
He said the delivery of humanitarian aid and food had been halted during the intense fighting but the town was well stocked and had reserves for a few months.
He estimated on Thursday that some 1,600 residents remained in Avdiivka, which had a pre-war population of 32,000.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an American non-profit research group, said that as of Thursday, Russian forces had not secured any major breakthroughs near Avdiivka and were unlikely to immediately cut off Ukrainian forces in the town.
It estimated that Russian forces have captured 4.52 square kilometres (1.75 square miles) of territory around Avdiivka since the beginning of their offensive on Tuesday.
Geolocated footage indicated that Russian forces had likely lost at least a battalion tactical group’s worth of armoured vehicles in the Avdiivka offensive, it said.