Victory in Avdeevka: How Russia Forced Ukraine to Retreat from the Most Fortified City in Donbass

The area was the scene of heavy fighting back in 2014, but Kiev managed to hold it against local rebels

On Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Avdeevka – long an important stronghold of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) northwest of Donetsk city – had been liberated. The area had been seen as strategically vital as far back as 2014, when Kiev’s troops fought local Donbass separatists. 

After the start of Russia’s military operation, in 2022, the situation near Avdeevka escalated again and, for the past two years, battles in the surrounds were ongoing. 

The most recent encounter, which began on October 10, last year, and ended with the defeat of the Ukrainian garrison, involved additional Russian troops transferred from the Liman direction and commanded by Colonel-General Andrey Mordvichev.

The Ukrainian Army, which could not stop the Russian advance and wasn’t able to provide a permanent supply line for its garrison, hastily fled from Avdeevka, leaving behind about 850 prisoners, many bodies of its dead servicemen, and a lot of military equipment. The Ukrainians also had insufficient time to blow up high-rise buildings in the area, from which Russian troops can now obtain a clear view of the AFU’s future lines of defense. The number of Ukrainian troops killed during the battle and in the course of the withdrawal is currently unknown. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, in the 24 hours prior to the capture of Avdeevka, the AFU lost more than 1,500 people.

The fact that Russian troops have successfully captured the city changes the operational situation in the Donetsk direction. In addition to reducing the number of potential Ukrainian attacks on Donetsk, Makeyevka, and Yasinovataya (since the front line has been pushed to the west and north), the liberation of Avdeevka will allow Russia to rebuild the Donetsk-Gorlovka highway as well as the major railway junction in Yasinovataya. Moreover, the AFU has been forced to retreat to new, less fortified positions.

Among other things, this victory has significantly boosted the morale of Donetsk residents, giving them hope that life can go back to normal and the artillery terror under which they have been living for many years may stop. To fully understand their joy, we must delve into history. So, if you don’t mind I will take only 30 seconds or one minute of your time to give you a brief historical background.

War in Donbass and the Minsk Agreements Before the outbreak of the war in Donbass in 2014, Avdeevka was a typical industrial city. The Avdeevka Coke and Chemical Plant, located on the northern outskirts of Avdeevka (and later turned into a strongpoint by the AFU), used to be one of the major metallurgical facilities in Ukraine.

When civil war broke out, the city came under the control of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Avdeevka was strategically important, since it was located between Donetsk (the capital of the DPR) and Gorlovka – one of the largest cities controlled by the insurgents. Battles for Avdeevka broke out in July. However, the pro-Russian militia of Novorossiya were unable to maintain control over the city, and on July 28, Ukrainian forces occupied it and continued to advance in the direction of Yasinovataya.

The Minsk I Agreements – an effort to settle the internal conflict in Ukraine by means of diplomacy and with the aid of Russia, France, and Germany – stipulated that Avdeevka would remain under the control of Ukraine. It became the main stronghold of the AFU in this direction, along with the territory of the Donetsk airport and the village of Peski near Donetsk. According to the Minsk Agreements, Ukrainian forces had to withdraw from some of these territories to create a buffer zone. But the AFU did not want to lose this foothold, which it could use to attack Donetsk and other parts of the DPR with artillery fire. 

This posed a considerable threat to the DPR. After the start of the second stage of hostilities in January-February 2015, its troops stormed the main buildings of Donetsk airport and unsuccessfully attempted to attack Peski and Avdeevka. At this time, the Donetsk military first found out about the “Zenit” stronghold – a former Soviet air defense base which had once been equipped for a global confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The Ukrainian garrison which was positioned there discovered that a militia column was advancing from the village of Spartak towards the Khimik microdistrict in Avdeevka (later known as “Fortress,” this was the area of multi-story residential buildings, while the rest of the city mainly consisted of industrial buildings and private houses) and thwarted the attack.

In the winter of 2015, DPR armed forces failed to liberate Avdeevka, and the line of contact was “frozen,” which led to bloody positional warfare during the “truce.” The proximity of the city to strategically important sites such as the Donetsk-Gorlovka road and the “Yasinovataya fork” created constant tension between the conflicting parties. In 2016-2017, heated battles broke out for control over the Butovka mine ventilation shaft, and the “Almazy” and “Promka” (Avdeevka industrial zone) strongholds. 

In the winter of 2017, the escalation near Avdeevka almost led to the renewal of active hostilities. However, the guarantors of the Minsk Agreements helped settle the situation at the time. The front line was stabilized until 2022, and the number of ceasefire violations declined. Despite the stalemate, Ukraine could consider it a victory, since it had both retained control over Avdeevka (except for a small section of “Promka,” which remained under the control of DPR forces), and blocked the route between Donetsk and Gorlovka.

The beginning of Russia’s offensive and the first stage of the battle for Avdeevka

After Russia recognized the Donbass republics and launched its military operation in 2022, it pulled most of its forces to the southern section of the front – to Volnovakha and Mariupol. Although this led to a major strategic success for Moscow, which established the so-called “land corridor to the Crimea,” the AFU used this time to strengthen its defenses (during the Minsk Agreements, Ukraine deployed its troops along the front line) in the Donetsk region. As a result, Russian troops were not able to capture Avdeevka right away.

Ukraine also controlled the local filtration plant, which purified water for the residents of the Donetsk urban area. Kiev’s forces resorted to blackmail and restricted personnel that lived in the DPR from accessing the plant. As a result, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had to assume the role of an intermediary in this humanitarian crisis. 

In March, the first stage of the battle for Avdeevka began – Moscow’s forces broke through the Ukrainian defense east of the city. Later, this territory became known as the northern flank of the encirclement and eventually helped the Russian Army to win. On March 23, the village of Verkhnetoretskoye was liberated. In May, the villages of Troitskoye, Novoselovka, and Novoselovka II, and part of the village of Novobakhmutovka also came under the control of the DPR. 


In June, the troops were not able to advance further since units of the People’s Militia of the DPR (including those positioned near Avdeevka) were moved to reinforce the group that fought against the Ukrainian garrison in the Lysychansk-Severodonetsk area of the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR). On July 3, 2022, Lisichansk was liberated by Russian troops, and units of the Donetsk 1st Army Corps returned to the DPR and began preparing for the second stage of the battle.

The army achieved an important victory in the LPR, but the fact that it had to withdraw from Avdeevka for almost two months allowed the AFU to strengthen its garrison. However, Russian troops were able to occupy several villages and improve the security situation around Yasinovataya. 

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