Ukraine retakes Avdiivka near the eastern city of Donetsk Oblast

A Ukrainian multiple rocket launcher fires on Russian positions on October 10, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Kyiv's troops are pushing forwards around the flanks of the devastated eastern city. Roman Chop/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

New battlefield maps suggest that Ukrainian and Russian forces are both edging forward in different parts of the eastern Donetsk Oblast, as Kyiv and Moscow look to win vital military momentum ahead of the onset of limiting weather conditions through the fall and winter months.

The latest update published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) shows small Ukrainian gains around the devastated city of Bakhmut, while Russian forces made meager progress around the fortress Ukrainian-held city of Avdiivka some 35 miles to the south.

Avdiivka—on the outskirts of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, which was at the heart of the Kremlin-sponsored separatist uprising against Kyiv in 2014—is one of the most heavily defended Ukrainian cities in the eastern Donbas theater.

Recent Russian attempts to encircle the area have so far come at a high cost. Kyiv claims to have destroyed more than 300 pieces of military equipment and killed 3,000 Russian troops in a week of defensive fighting around Avdiivka.

Despite Moscow’s initial reported heavy losses, the ISW reported that Russian offensive actions are continuing in the heavily defended area.

“Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Avdiivka direction on October 16 and recently made some gains, albeit at a relatively slower pace than in the initial attacks,” the think tank’s Monday bulletin said.

Geolocated footage, it added, suggests Russian forces “marginally” advanced past the E50 highway—the arterial road connecting Donetsk to western Ukraine—around 2 miles south of the city.

“The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a total of 22 Russian attacks in the Avdiivka direction in the past day, notably fewer than the 30 reported attacks on October 15,” the ISW wrote.

“Russian sources noted that Russian forces have increased the intensity of air and artillery strikes on the settlement in order to compensate for slow ground maneuvers, which are complicated by heavy Ukrainian fortifications surrounding Avdiivka.”

President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu are both seemingly downplaying operations around Avdiivka, describing the actions as an “active defense” intended to prevent Ukrainian offensives.

Kyiv’s troops, though, are making slight progress around Bakhmut. The destroyed city has played host to some of the most intense combat of the war, its name now synonymous with Russia’s devastation doctrine.

Since losing the city to Russian forces—led by Wagner Group mercenaries—in May, Ukrainian units have been inching forward around its northern and southern flanks while their comrades push the main Ukrainian counteroffensive focus on the southwestern Zaporizhzhia front.

“Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast on October 16,” the ISW bulletin read. “The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol… and Bakhmut directions.”

The ISW noted consternation among some Russian pro-war military bloggers, citing the “Philologist” Telegram channel as warning that Ukrainian forces “have crossed the railway line south of Bakhmut in some places.”

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