Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv’s Grip On Avdiivka Is Slipping

After months of heavy fighting and huge losses, Russia could be poised to break Ukrainian resistance in the key Donbas city.

byThomas Newdick|
DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 28: A Ukrainian soldier fires towards the Russian position as the Ukrainian soldiers from the artillery unit wait for ammunition assistance at the frontline in the direction of Avdiivka as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk
Photo by Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu via Getty Images
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The city of Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, continues to see intense fighting with the situation there for Ukrainian defenders becoming dire. With dwindling artillery ammunition and troops worn out after months of intense combat, Russia is now making larger gains.

Located northwest of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, Avdiivka has long been identified as a key Ukrainian strongpoint and Moscow has put considerable effort into its capture.

A renewed effort to take Avdiivka was launched back in the fall. Since then, Russian forces have made slow progress in their attempt to surround the town, but they have endured huge attrition of men and materiel in the process.

According to Ukrainian news reporter, Yuri Butusov, the situation there is now critical, however, as out-gunned Ukrainian defenders struggle to hold back Russian forces, which operate under extensive artillery support.

The primary Ukrainian formation fighting in Avdiivka is the 110th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which has long been engaged in the struggle to hold the town but is now said to be exhausted, according to Butusov.

Purportedly active in the fighting around Avdiivka is this U.S.-supplied M1A1 Abrams tank, said to be operated by the 47th Mechanized Brigade. The video and related still seen below were apparently taken from an M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle during combined-arms operations, although the date is unknown. The Abrams was confirmed to have been delivered to Ukraine in September 2023, but so far there has been little evidence of the type operating at the front. Washington has committed to sending 31 Abrams to Kyiv.

Another U.S.-supplied fighting vehicle, the M2 Bradley seen in the next video apparently hit a mine but managed to carry on fighting, still engaging targets with its 25mm cannon. Finally, it shed a track and came to a stop, after which the crew abandoned it and fled to safety.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

The Latest

In a speech at the White House today, President Joe Biden accused Republicans of caving to Donald Trump’s wishes and opposing a bill that would, in part, tighten immigration policy while also providing billions of dollars to Ukraine and Israel, as well as investing in strengthening America's position in the Pacific.

“All indications are this bill won’t even move forward to the Senate floor,” the president said.

“Why? A simple reason: Donald Trump.”

During an a recent interview, Trump called the bill "a trap" and said it should not be passed.

President Biden has also threatened to veto a proposed standalone aid package for Israel, backed by House Republicans.

“The Administration spent months working with a bipartisan group of Senators to reach a national security agreement that secures the border and provides support for the people of Ukraine and Israel, while also providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by conflicts around the world,” the White House wrote in a statement.

The White House added that the GOP-backed standalone Israel aid bill was “another cynical political maneuver,” rather than a serious effort to work “in good faith to address the most pressing national security challenges.”

Worth $118 billion, the legislation package prepared by Biden’s administration, together with Senate Democrats and Republicans, was revealed on Sunday. Months in the making, the package combines billions of dollars in emergency aid for Ukraine, Israel, and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy.

The bipartisan bill includes $60 billion in aid to Ukraine and $14.1 billion for Israel in its war in Gaza.

Even before the bill was released, however, Republican House leaders confirmed they would reject it, and instead vote on a bill providing aid exclusively to Israel. Former President Trump, in particular, has been a vocal opponent.

“The actions here in the next few days are an inflection point in history,” the Democrat Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said today. “The security of our nation and of the world hangs in the balance.”

Biden’s administration had hoped that combining more aid for Ukraine with a border security package would win skeptical Republicans over. That seems to have failed, however.

In the meantime, the reluctance of Congress to approve tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine’s fight means the Pentagon has suspended shipments of certain weapons to Kyiv. As the flow of arms and foreign aid starts to dry up, Kyiv’s soldiers are increasingly at a disadvantage against a numerically superior foe.

Rumors continue to swirl around a possible significant shakeup within the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

According to a report from CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is still considering replacing many of the country’s leaders, including Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“When we talk about this, I mean a replacement of a series of state leaders, not just in a single sector like the military,” Zelensky told Italian news outlet RAI, which first published his words on the topic. The Ukrainian president talked of potential changes as part of a “reset” ahead of the second anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion.

Zelensky also said that “a new beginning is necessary,” and that he has “something serious in mind, which does not concern a single person but the direction of the country’s leadership.”

Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi. Kaniuka Ruslan/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Zaluzhnyi's future has been under scrutiny for some time now, with a rift between the two apparently growing and the defense ministry having been rocked by previous corruption scandals.

CNN reports now that Zelensky is expected to announce Zalzhnyi’s dismissal “in the coming days,” though a presidential spokesman told news outlets last week that rumors of the army chief’s imminent firing were untrue.

One of the points of contention between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi has been the issue of mobilization.

Zaluzhnyi said in December that Ukraine needed a mass mobilization effort to try and turn the tide of the war, but Zelensky resisted the plan to draft up to half a million additional soldiers. The request is still being reviewed by parliament.

Ukrainian soldiers move into position to fire artillery on the Pisky front line in the Donetsk region, on January 6, 2023. Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Zelensky has submitted a proposal to the Ukrainian parliament to extend martial law and general mobilization for another 90 days, according to a report in The Kyiv Independent.

Martial law and general mobilization were first declared at the start of the full-scale Russian invasion and these have been repeatedly extended since then, most recently until February 14, 2024. The new proposal would extend these measures until May 14.

Zelensky himself has recently been visiting the front lines again, with a trip to Robotyne, a village in the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine that has been a focus of heavy fighting in recent months.

Seized by Russian forces in March 2022, the village played a central role in the 2023 Ukrainian counteroffensive, being liberated by Kyiv’s forces in August 2023, by which time only one family was reportedly left in the village. Another Russian effort to seize Robotyne was repelled in September 2023 and fighting continues only a few miles from the location of Zelensky’s visit.

The trench warfare that has characterized much of the more static fighting in the south and the east of the country continues. The next two videos show combat strikingly reminiscent of the brutal close-quarters fighting that took place in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

The first video is said to show troops from the Ukrainian volunteer battalion Sonechko (Sun) leaving their trench to storm Russian positions.

The next video, also from the ongoing trench fighting, shows a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) adapted with several rounds of rifle-caliber ammunition taped to it, presumably to produce additional shrapnel on detonation. Not to forget, a mean-looking face for additional effect.

The latest video to emerge of a disastrous Russian mechanized assault purportedly shows an action that took place recently south of the village of Novomykhailivka, in the Donetsk region.

The assault quickly runs into confusion, leading to a collision between two T-72 tanks, leaving one immobilized. Once the column reaches its objective, the situation gets worse, with repeated attacks from Ukrainian indirect fire and as well as first-person-view (FPV) drones. The two T-72s are hit by drone strikes, as is an MT-LB tracked armored fighting vehicle, which detonates spectacularly as the ammunition cooks off. Reportedly, the final Russian losses amounted to five tanks, seven MT-LBs, and a BMP infantry fighting vehicle.

Early on in the war, the Ukrainian-made Stugna anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) became something of a signature weapon, on account of some impressive engagements against Russian armor. The ATGM is very much still in use, as evidenced by the next video. Once again, the location is said to be Avdiivka, with the victim an unidentified Russian main battle tank.

Ukrainian efforts to field significant numbers of drones, especially of the FPV type, to offset superior Russian numbers, appear to be yielding results, at least if these images are anything to go by.

Back in December, Kyiv said it planned to manufacture around a million FPV drones this year, as part of expanding efforts to build uncrewed aircraft of different types. Used for reconnaissance and attack, the FPV drone is a weapon that has had a significant impact on the battlefield, as well as producing some of the most dramatic video footage of the war so far. However, despite these impressive photos, there remain questions about whether such an output is even possible.

Often neglected when it comes to Ukrainian-operated long-range precision-guided ordnance is the M982 Excalibur. This is a 155mm artillery round that uses GPS and inertial guidance to find its target while also extending the range at which it can strike.

To use Excalibur, troops input location data into a guidance unit that uploads it into the projectile before sending it downrange. More complex salvos can also be programmed. You can read much more about these rounds here.

New interesting information has emerged that appears to shed light on the murky world of arms transfer from Iran to Russia, specifically the one-way attack drones that have been used extensively in attacks across Ukraine.

While the source of the documents cannot be confirmed, and they could be totally bogus, they detail several different Iranian-designed drones, namely the jet-powered Shahed-238; the Shahed-107B and Shahed-107C for reconnaissance and one-way attack; and the Shahed-101P, also for one-way attack.

Reportedly, the documents state that Russia planned to produce 6,000 Iranian drones under license at its facilities over a two-and-a-half-year period, starting in 2022. The total price of the production contract, including technology transfer and equipment, and 6,000 sets of drones, was said to be $1.75 billion. We have major questions about these figures we will be addressing in a coming piece.

A day after a top Ukrainian defense official said the country is awaiting strike weapons with a range of 300-500 kilometers (186 to 310 miles) for its future F-16s, a video has emerged showing one of Ukraine’s earlier standoff weapons in action. The footage shows examples of either the U.K.-supplied Storm Shadow or the similar French-supplied SCALP EG cruise missile flying over what are said to be Russian-operated S-300/S-400 air defense systems. While it cannot be confirmed, it has been suggested that the cruise missiles were headed toward the Crimean airbase at Belbek, which was reportedly struck last week, as you can read about here.

An older video next, but nonetheless interesting. This footage shows the results of a Ukrainian attack on a Russian military column using cluster munitions, among others. Dated October 14, 2023, the incident has been geolocated to a position outside the village of Krasnohorivka, in the Donetsk region.

Air defense systems for Ukraine are never far from the headlines but a statement from President Zelensky last week is intriguing, suggesting that two — potentially — new kinds of air defense system have been supplied to Ukraine.

“The main news today is something we have all been waiting for and working on for months on various levels: two more air defense systems have arrived in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian leader said. “Naturally, all details should not be made public. But these are the systems capable of intercepting everything. We will protect regions. There are not yet enough systems in place to fully protect Ukraine, but we are working on it every day. I am grateful to our partners who help us strengthen Ukraine’s air defense and protect lives.”

It is not immediately clear if the statement refers to an all-new type of system, such as one of the ad-hoc air defense systems developed as part of a Pentagon initiative dubbed FrankenSAM, or whether it implies additional examples of a system already in Ukrainian hands. As we reported last month, at least one of the FrankenSAM systems is already in combat use in Ukraine.

A more familiar air defense system is the Soviet-era 9K35 Strela-10 (SA-13 Gopher) introduced in the 1970s in the low-level air defense role. The Strela-10 uses a more mobile, tracked MT-LB chassis. A variety of infrared-guided missiles, including the 9M37 and 9M333 families, are available and can engage targets out to a range of 3.1 miles. before the full-scale Russian invasion, Ukraine was thought to have at least 75 examples of the Strela-10 in service. Six of the improved Strela-10M have since been provided by the Czech Republic.

Another Soviet-era system, albeit upgraded is the 9K33 Osa-AKM-P1, a Ukrianian-modernised SA-8 Gecko short-range air defense system (SHORADS). This is based on a fully amphibious six-wheeled BAZ-5937 transport vehicle. The number of these systems available to Ukraine prior to February 2022 is unclear. The Osa-AKM-P1 is a further refinement of the Osa-AKM, or SA-8B Gecko Mod-1, with 9M33M3 missiles with a maximum range of 9.3 miles and a maximum altitude of up of 40,000 feet. The Osa-AKM carries six missiles in box-type containers, rather than the four exposed missiles found on the original system.

The following video is interesting in that it suggests that, despite claims to the contrary, Ukrainian air defenses have been able to shoot down examples of the Kh-22/Kh-32 (AS-4 Kitchen) supersonic cruise missiles. After a spate of high-profile attacks on urban targets using these repurposed anti-ship weapons, the Ukrainian Air Force said that it was unable to destroy these Soviet-era missiles. It seems that may not be entirely true, the story perhaps being put forward primarily as an argument for why Ukraine needs more advanced air defense systems like the Patriot PAC-3 and the Aster SAMP/T. It is likely these systems that have the ability to shoot down these weapons under certain circumstances.

A useful primer video to finish up with, this one provided by the pro-Ukrainian UNITED24 Media channel, detailing the Leopard 2A6 tank, a German design that has been supplied to Ukraine by Germany and Portugal, alongside larger numbers of the older Leopard 2A4 version. In the video, the commander of one unit describes how the Leopard 2A6s that he has worked on have survived damage inflicted by mines, drones, and ATGMs. On each occasion, none of the crew was harmed, he claims.

That’s it for now.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

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