Ukrainian troops withdrawal from Avdiivka

Rainer Pihlakas
Feb 21, 2024


Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that Russian troops under the command of Colonel-General Andrei Mordvichev had established "full control" over Avdiivka as Ukrainian troops had been withdrawn from Avdiivka. On the evening of February 17, Shoigu reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin that units of Russian Central Grouping of Forces were completing the capture of Avdeevka and clearing areas where, according to Shoigu, Russian troops had trapped Ukrainian forces.

Shoigu also stated that Ukraine's losses in the fighting for Avdiivka over the past 24 hours amounted to more than 1,500 servicemen and that only some scattered formations of Ukrainian militants were able to leave Avdiivka in a hurry, leaving behind weapons and military equipment.

The liberation of Avdiivka made it possible to move the front line away from Donetsk, thus making it significantly safer from the Kiev regime's strikes, Shoigu noted. [1]

On February 17 Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskii, announced: "Based on the operational situation around Avdiivka, in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen, I decided to withdraw our units from the city and move to defense on more favorable lines.” [2]

The withdrawal of personnel from Avdiivka took place in accordance with a plan designed to take into account various scenarios and possible changes in the operational situation. Nevertheless, at the final stage of the operation, under the pressure of the prevailing enemy forces, some Ukrainian servicemen were captured, said the commander of the Tavria operational-strategic group of troops, Brigadier General Alexander Tarnavsky, on the same day. [3]

On February 18, General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine published the total losses of Russian troops during the Avdiivka defensive operation from October 10, 2023 to February 17, 2024 as follows: [4]

• personnel – 47,186 people

• tanks – 364

• artillery systems – 248

• armoured fighting vehicles – 748

• airplanes – 5

1. Which side suffered heavy losses in the vicinity of Avdiivka?

On October 10, 2023, after Russian forces had launched a significant offensive in the vicinity of Avdiivka, a Ukrainian reserve officer said that according to the most conservative estimates, Ukrainian forces destroyed at least 36 units of Russian armoured vehicles, including tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and transport vehicles.[5] The Ukrainian military later confirmed earlier information that Russian forces lost 50 tanks, 100 armoured personnel carriers, and 900 personnel during the October 19 attacks around Avdiivka.[6] Colonel Alexander Shtupun, spokesman for the Tavria group of Ukrainian troops, said on October 26 that since October 10, Russian forces had suffered losses of 5,000 killed or wounded personnel and 400 armoured vehicles in the area of Avdiivka and Marinka, southwest of Donetsk city.[7] Satellite imagery confirmed that between 10-20 October, the Russian military lost at least 109 pieces of military equipment (mostly armoured fighting vehicles and tanks) in the vicinity of Avdiivka.[8]

Usually, Russian milbloggers publish and amplify footage of Ukrainian prisoners of war and those killed during combat operations. The footage that Russian milbloggers have amplified so far does not correspond to Russian claims of Ukrainian losses and the capture of Ukrainian prisoners of war. Some milbloggers even amplified footage showing Ukrainian troops walking freely in open terrain during the retreat. [9]

Thus, the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Avdiivka most likely occurred in accordance with plan, and there was no chaotic flight, as claimed by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Also, the fact that a small number of Ukrainian servicemen were taken prisoner by Russia is a sad normality under the pressure of the overwhelming enemy forces and does not refer to a chaotic withdrawal of Ukrainian troops. It is clear from the well-documented early footage that Russian troops suffered enormous losses, at least in the initial stages of the Avdiivka offensive.

2. Why were Ukrainian troops forced to retreat from Avdiivka?

According to SensusQ, there were mainly two reasons for this. First, according to the press secretary of the Ukrainian brigade operating near Avdiivka, Russian forces carried out in average 60 strikes with KAB high-explosive bombs on Ukrainian positions every day, which is a large number on a relatively small section of the front. [10]

Thus, Russian forces were able to raze to the ground the Ukrainian fortifications that had been built and modernized in this direction since 2014. In addition, Russian forces appeared to have temporarily established air superiority and were able to provide close air support to ground forces during the offensive to capture Avdiivka.

Second, dense fog and non-flying conditions for drones allowed Russian assault units, without the threat of detection and defeat at the advance stage, to rapidly approach the enemy in the north-east of Avdiivka and break into the city. At the same time, pressure began on the defence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the south, which led to the almost simultaneous fall of several key Ukrainian strongholds. [11]

3. What are the consequences of the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Avdiivka?

First, the reputation of the commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskii is likely to improve among Ukrainian military and civilians. Some sources, have accused general Syrskii of being a commander who does not care about the lives of soldiers. In addition, it has been widely discussed that the capture of Avdiivka is a valuable victory on the battlefield that Vladimir Putin needs before the upcoming elections. Therefore, it is likely that Ukrainian politicians wanted to deprive Putin of this propaganda victory and hold the Ukrainian defences in Avdiivka at least until March 17. The timely and well-executed withdrawal is a clear sign that Syrskii is not a commander who puts political goals above soldiers' lives.

Moreover, an early withdrawal may be a smart move, because by Election Day the capture of Avdiivka will be old news. Especially if between the capture of the city and Election Day there will be a significant Ukrainian achievement that will overshadow the capture of a small Ukrainian town. A significant Ukrainian achievement doesn't have to be the liberation of territory, but could also be the sinking of another large ship in the Black Sea, the destruction of several aircraft, a successful missile strike on a Russian base, a successful drone strike on important targets in occupied Ukraine or Russia, etc. Therefore, an early successful withdrawal gives Ukraine a chance to minimize the propaganda value of the tactical loss of the city of Avdiivka.

4. What is the strategic value of Avdiivka?

The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that "the liberation of Avdiivka has made it possible to move the front line away from Donetsk and thereby significantly protect it from the strikes of the Kiev regime." In fact, the Ukrainian army was forced to withdraw all large-caliber artillery and other large equipment from Avdiivka several months ago, since the operational encirclement of Avdiivka did not allow the delivery of ammunition there. In addition, due to the proximity of Russian forces, such equipment would have been an easy target for UAVs and Russian artillery or bomber aircraft. Therefore, the Ukrainians could not hit targets in Donetsk with artillery even long before the fall of Avdiivka. At the same time, military installations in Donetsk remain within the range of Ukrainian HIMARS and Storm Shadow missiles, so Russian troops are still unable to enjoy complete freedom of movement.

In addition, the capture of Avdiivka has no operational significance for the Russians, as Ukrainian forces have long fortified many nearby settlements that Russian forces are also attempting to capture, and subsequent Ukrainian positions west and north of Avdiivka are likely fortified as well. The nearest relatively large settlements in the area are at least 30 kilometers west of Avdiivka, and Russian forces have not shown that they can conduct the rapid mechanized movement that would be required to reach these settlements in the near or even medium term.

Due to the newly built Ukrainian fortifications and the distance from other major settlements, the Russians will likely no longer prioritize the Avdiivka direction. Most likely, as the main effort in the near future, they will try to advance towards Chasiv Yar, west of Bakhmut, or try to recapture Kupyansk.

5. Lessons learned

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said on February 17 that the main lessons learned from the defence of Avdiivka are as follows:

1. Modern air defence systems are needed to prevent the enemy from using guided bombs.

2. Long-range weapons are needed to destroy enemy formations.

3. Artillery shells are required. [12]

Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat said that Ukrainian air defences need to shoot down Russian Su-34 and Su-35 attack aircraft launching glide bombs to stop the strikes. Glide bombs can reach 20-25 kilometres from the frontline, since Russian aircraft do not fly closer due to the threat of Ukrainian air defence. Russian forces have begun to make extensive use of glide bombs in almost all directions, and despite their inaccuracy, they pose a great threat to Ukrainian troops and settlements near the front line due to the huge amount of explosives (250 kg, 500 kg or 1500 kg) that they contain. [13]


Russia's capture of Avdiivka has no operational significance and is likely to bring the Kremlin only an immediate informational and political victory. Moreover, Ukraine's significant achievements on the battlefield could overshadow Russia's capture of Avdiivka. One such achievements could also be the long-awaited arrival of F-16 fighter jets in Ukraine, which could undermine Russian air superiority in front-line areas and put an end to heavy bombing of Ukrainian military fortifications and settlements at close range.


[1] Минобороны России: Сегодня в Кремле Министр обороны Российской Федерации генерал армии С.К. Шойгу доложил … Feb 2024. [Online]

[2] Генеральний штаб ЗСУ / General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: Головнокомандувач ЗС України / CinC AF of Ukraine генерал-полковник Олександр Сирський: Feb 2024. [Online]

[3]Генеральний штаб ЗСУ / General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: «Прикриваючи організований вихід наших підрозділів з Авдіївки … Feb 2024. [Online]

[4]Генеральний штаб ЗСУ / General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: "Авдіївська оборонна операція. Втрати ворога. Feb 2024. [Online]

[5] Tatarigami_UA: In recent days, Avdiivka, an operationally vital settlement near Donetsk, emerged as a frontline hotspot. Oct 2023. [Online]

[6] "Штурм з усіх боків, з окупованих сіл". У Нацгвардії розказали про атаку Авдіївки, де РФ втратила 50 танків і 900 вояк. Oct 2023. [Online]

[7] З 10 жовтня на двох напрямках росіяни втратили понад 5 тисяч особового складу та до 400 одиниць бронетехніки. Oct 2023. [Online]

[[8] Tatarigami_UA: Through visual analysis of satellite imagery, our team found Russian military vehicle losses in Avdiivka between October 10 and October 20. Oct 2023. [Online]

[9] Фронтовые сводки: Кадры выхода одного из украинских подразделений из Авдеевки. Feb 2024. [Online]

[10] Суспільне Новини: РФ продовжує підтягувати резерви попри втрати двох бригад у боях за Авдіївку — пресофіцер 3-ї ОШБр. Feb 2024. [Online].

[11] Военный Осведомитель: Безусловно, одним из фактором нашего успеха на Авдеевском направлении выступили авиабомбы … Feb 2024. [Online].

[12] Рустем Умєров / Rustem Umerov: Наші lessons learned щодо Авдіївки. Feb 2024. [Online].

[13] АрміяInform: Знищені російські Су-34 і Су-35 скидали КАБи на наші позиції — Юрій Ігнат. Feb 2024. [Online].

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