Russian forces have stepped up their shelling of Avdiivka, a town in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, according to Ukrainian officials, as Moscow pursues its broader offensive to seize more land in the east.
While the city of Bakhmut has become the main focus of Russian attempts to secure territory in the east, Avdiivka is one of several other areas that Moscow has targeted in recent weeks as part of its stated objective of seizing the whole of Donbas.
Russian troops fired artillery three times at the town on Monday, according to the head of the regional Ukrainian military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, writing on Telegram, the social messaging app. There was no independent confirmation of the report. The town had a population of 31,000 before the war, but almost all its inhabitants have fled. Mr. Kyrylenko said that Russia also shelled nearby communities.
Mr. Kyrylenko said Russia’s attacks included the use of cluster munitions, which human rights groups say can disproportionately harm civilians. His account could not be independently confirmed.
The Ukrainian military’s general staff said in a daily report that its forces had repelled attacks in the town itself as well as in at least five nearby settlements. The attacks form a pattern of destruction, according to other officials.
Russia, “apart from shelling Avdiivka and the positions around Avdiivka, has been massively hitting the villages near and on the way to the town over the past week,” Vitaliy Barabash, head of the town’s military administration, said on Ukrainian television over the weekend.
“These villages are being erased,” Mr. Barabash said. He said Russian forces appeared to be “trying to cut off Avdiivka, disrupt the logistics, the delivery of personnel and ammunition,” probably in the belief that the town housed “a lot of personnel, our guys.” He added that Russian fighters had targeted a road that runs from a big industrial plant into the town.
Videos and photographs from Avdiivka posted on social media in recent weeks showed a town devastated by shelling, even by the standards of other hard-hit places in a region where fighting has raged since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago. In one, a fire burned in a deserted industrial building, a large crater stood in a street full of debris and dozens of houses and many apartment blocks had windows blown out. Even trees appeared blackened. The material had not been confirmed independently.
Pro-Russian separatists occupied Avdiivka for a few months in 2014, when Moscow illegally annexed Crimea and set up breakaway republics in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up Donbas. Ukrainian forces drove the separatists out of Avdiivka in July of that year.
But the length of the battle for Avdiivka — a town just north of the regional capital, Donetsk, which was captured by pro-Russian separatists in 2014 and has remained under Moscow’s control — illustrates how difficult it has been for Russian forces to take further ground in the region. Both warring parties have established significant defenses in the region and Ukraine has reinforced its positions there to fend off the Russian assault.
Over the weekend, The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, reported a Russian claim that Moscow’s forces had taken Sjeverne and Kamianka, settlements east and west of Avdiivka. The Ukrainian military denied the claims, and there was no independent confirmation.