The Battle of Avdiivka (2022 – Present): The Second Battle of Bakhmut?

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Mike Wong

The Battle of Avdiivka, is a current military engagement between both Ukraine and the Russian Federation, where both the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Russian Armed Forces have been in combat against each other for the city of Avdiivka. The city of Avdiivka, is a city located in Donetsk Oblast, and has been described as a “gateway” for Ukrainian forces to enter the Russian occupied city of Donetsk. The city of Donetsk to note, was the administrative capital of Donetsk Oblast, until 2014, when the city was captured by separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (which is currently as of today, annexed by Russia).

The Battle of Avdiivka, started in 2017, when the War in Donbass began from 2014-17, and the 2017 Battle of Avdiivka, only lasted for 6 days, until fighting eased, and toned down to low-level skirmishes and clashes between Pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine, when the now defunct Minsk Protocols were signed. Also, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), had dispatched a special mission to Ukraine. Avdiivka was on the frontlines between the territory occupied by Pro-Russia rebels, and the Ukrainian military.

However, tensions rose, and clashes became more violent between the Ukrainian military and Russian separatists, until Russia declared the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. As of today, the Battle of Avdiivka, is still under Ukrainian control, but the Russian military has had successes around the areas around Avdiivka, with the town of Pisky, a small town just West of Avdiivka, captured by Russian and pro-Russian separatists.

The Russian military also used phosphorus shelling on the city itself

The Russian forces used very old Soviet style military tactics to attempt to capture the Avdiivka. This included mass shelling and bombardment of the city, as the Ukrainian military, had spent 5 years fortifying the city, turning it into a fortress. The Russian military also used phosphorus shelling on the city itself, with the tactic to create a large smoke screen and blind the Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka, and easily overtake the city. However, their attempts to capture the city failed, including them trying to encircle the city, like the Siege of Mariupol in 2022, as the Russian military sustained heavy casualties.

In response to Ukraine’s lightning counteroffensives in the Kharkiv Oblast, which liberated the near entirety of what Russia captured from February to September, and resulted in Russia pulling out their forces from Kherson, the Russian military deployed many of their forces towards Bakhmut. It was only until October 2022 that they renewed their offensive to capture the city, but to no success. Without the Wagner Group, the Russian PMC that captured the near entirety of Bakhmut (taking place before the failed Wagner Rebellion in June 2023) were unable to overrun Avdiivka, which had been turned into a Ukrainian fortress.

Analysts have compared the Russian offensive into Avdiivka as a similar repeat to the Battle of Bakhmut. These sentiments have been echoed by Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, the Ukrainian military spokesperson for Ukraine’s Tavria military command, in Donetsk oblast.

President Zelensky also described the fighting around Avdiivka, as “particularly tough”.

The city of Avdiivka, now being compared to other Battles, including the well-known Battle of Bakhmut, also gained commentary and mentions from Ukraine’s government, including military analysts. The city of Avdiivka was chosen as a frontline town of freedom by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. President Zelensky also described the fighting around Avdiivka, as “particularly tough”. While there has been no official reaction from the Russian Government or Russian Defence Ministry over the city of Avdiivka, the consistent shelling and large Russian offensives, including use of penal battalions, despite heavy losses and casualties, evidently showed how much Russia wanted to capture the city.

There have not only been military casualties, in the thousands or tens of thousands, but also civilian casualties in the Battle of Avdiivka itself. While most of the civilian population in Avdiivka has been evacuated, with only 10% of the pre-war population remaining, (1000 people remain of the original 30,000 civilians), there have been Ukrainian civilian casualties, which were mostly caused by Russian shelling. The precise figures of military casualties are not clear and are varied, as both Ukraine and Russia have not released the true military deaths in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to Ukrainian spokesman for the Tavria Group of Troops, Colonel Oleksandr Shtupun, there were 6500 Russian fatalities across Donetsk, but heavy losses around Avdiivka. Russia, however, also claims that Ukraine suffered heavy losses. US officials have claimed that Russia suffered 300,000+ casualties, while Ukraine suffered 70,000 casualties, with 120,000 wounded. US Air Guardsman Jack Texiera pleaded not guilty to leaking the documents which stated these figures

The Institute for the Study of War compares the Avdiivka Battle similar to the Battle of Vuhledar

While the press and many analysts would compare the Battle of Bakhmut near equivalent to the current Battle of Avdiivka, the Institute for the Study of War compares the Avdiivka Battle similar to the Battle of Vuhledar, where heavy Russian armoured losses around Avdiivka surpassed the amount of armoured equipment lost by the Russians. This also led to discontent amongst the Russian military, where Russian Major General Ivan Popov criticised the Russian Defense Ministry for the problems the Russian military was facing, only to be sacked, and prominent Russian Nationalist pro-war blogger, Igor Girkin, criticised the inability of the Russian military to advance around Avdiivka. This led to the Russian FSB arresting him, as the Guardian reports.

To conclude, while the Battle of Avdiivka, is still currently ongoing as of today, and there have been both Russian and Ukrainian gains, particularly around Avdiivka, it will remain to be seen whether Russia will encircle and capture the city, or whether Ukraine prevails, and Russia fails in their offensive towards Avdiivka.

It is important however, that peace and a cessation to the War in Ukraine is needed, to prevent further innocent civilian casualties.

Mike Wong

Featured image courtesy of Anton Dmitriev on Unplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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