Russia’s War on Ukraine: Fear of a Second Bachmut

Russia’s War on Ukraine: Fear of a Second Bachmut

Avdiivka, not far from Donetsk, is constantly the target of Russian attacks. Only a few still live there. Will the city soon be completely surrounded?

A soldier takes cover in front of a burning house

Heavy fighting on March 17 in the city of Avdiivka Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka/ap

BERLIN taz | “Evacuations are a painful issue for us,” says Oleksiy Savkevich. Although they are still possible, only one road can be used – which, however, is constantly being shot at. Volunteers like Savkevich still use them – somehow they have to get to the people in order to save them from Avdiivka. Because the city in the east of the Ukraine threatens to become a second Bachmut, a city that is being fought over fiercely – and where accordingly a lot suffering and destruction stay behind.

According to official figures, around 1,900 people still live in Avdiivka. Before the Russian invasion in February 2022 there were around 32,000. The war with Russia has been going on here for nine years. The city of Donetsk, occupied by pro-Russian separatists in 2014, is only about 15 kilometers away. Since then, Avdiivka has been a Ukrainian frontline town that has been under constant fire.

However, over time, the Ukrainian army managed to significantly expand the defenses along the front line. That is why the occupiers have not yet succeeded in ousting the Ukrainian garrison from here and taking the city. Life is difficult for those who stayed behind in Avdiivka: there has been no water, electricity or gas for a year.

It was only on Monday that Vitaly Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military-civilian administration, once again asked the residents to be evacuated. “It’s unfortunate to admit, but Avdiivka is becoming more and more like a city from apocalyptic movies,” he said. The city is now in the ‘red zone’, meaning volunteers and members of the media are no longer allowed access as of now. The remaining employees of the Stadtwerke should also be evacuated and the cell phone should be switched off.

“A Difficult Decision”

“This is a difficult decision,” but there is no other way out, he said. According to Barabash, the supply base had been shelled twice in the past few days. There were dead and injured among the employees of the municipal works. He justified the shutdown of mobile communications with security reasons. The cell tower stands next to a utility department that supplies it with electricity via generators. Residents come there to make phone calls and charge their devices. A deadly danger: people are often shot at in a targeted manner.

Due to the impossibility of entering the city directly, the Russian army decided to repeat the scenario they used in Bakhmut: that is, to surround the city and cut off supply routes. At the moment Avdiivka is half circled. For the Russians, capturing the city is tactically much more important than capturing Bakhmut. Since the Avdiivka garrison is near Donetsk, the Russian strategy is to push the front line as far back from Donetsk as possible. This is intended to protect the military installations and logistics located there, which are the most important targets for the Ukrainian army.

Since this goal is almost impossible to achieve during a ground operation, the Russian tactic is to destroy the city from the air so that the Ukrainians can no longer use it as a fortified area. A few weeks ago, Russian troops launched massive airstrikes. During this time more than a dozen civilian buildings in the city were destroyed. All are objects of infrastructure – multi-storey residential buildings, schools and communal facilities. People still live in some of these damaged buildings. “Every day we have to persuade people to be evacuated,” said Barabash. But many refused – despite the inhumane conditions.

Volunteer Savkevich can understand that Avdiivka is now in the “red zone”, although he does not yet know how this will affect his commitment. “So far we have brought enough humanitarian aid to the city. People are taken care of,” he says. The question is how much longer.

From Russian Barbara Oertel

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