After five months of intense fighting along the front lines, the Ukrainian military pulled out of the eastern city of Avdiivka. It’s the biggest gain made by Russian troops in months, as the new head of the Ukrainian army said it was a tactical withdrawal. 

The decision to pull out of the city was a strategic one to avoid being surrounded and cut off, according to the new head of the military, Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, who took over earlier this month.

“I decided to withdraw our units from the town and move to defense from more favorable lines in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen,” Syrskyi said in a statement on the move out of Avdiivka. 

On Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed it had moved into Avdiivka and was fighting the last remaining resistance at a chemical facility. 

Syrskyi’s decision is his first major one as the commander of the Ukrainian military. He earlier had ordered the prolonged defense of the city of Bakhmut, another frontline focal point that saw some of the toughest battles over several months of the two-year war, with heavy losses on both sides.

The fighting around the city has been some of the most intense in the war. Prior to the war, Avdiivka was an industrial city, home to approximately 30,000 people. Since the fighting began, almost all of the population fled, and images and video from the front lines show the city heavily destroyed, with almost every building damaged or destroyed from constant artillery bombardments and street fighting. 

Although Russia has apparently taken the city, it comes after months of fighting that left scores dead on both sides. The city, located in the Donetsk region which Russia claims to control, has been a major stronghold for Ukrainian forces along the hundreds of miles that make up the front line in the war. In fact, it is only a few miles from the actual city of Donetsk, making it strategically important. 

Footage recorded throughout the winter via drones showed multiple waves of attacks on Ukrainian lines repelled, while armor battles saw some of Russia’s still modern tanks knocked out by drones and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. 

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Despite that, ammunition shortages severely weakened Ukraine’s combat effectiveness. Syrskyl said that Russian forces were constantly bombarding the city and had a “10-to-1 shell advantage” over Ukraine. CNN, quoting officers fighting around Avdiivka, reported that Russia was also able to keep replenishing its waves of drones used for aerial attacks.

With fighting in the war reduced to a battle of attrition across trench lines and almost static movement, offenses have focused on major artillery duels. Despite deliveries of modern, high-tech munitions and launchers from the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western nations, Ukraine’s depleted ammunition supplies mean that it can’t match Russian barrages. Russia for its own part is facing dwindling munition stockpiles, but they are apparently not dwindling as fast as Ukraine’s.

Much of the Ukrainian ammunition has been supplied by the United States and has been held up due to political deadlock in Congress. On Thursday, the White House even warned that the city could fall in part due to delays in supplying ammo. On Saturday, President Joe Biden criticized Congress for holding up assistance to Ukraine. A large aid package for both Ukraine and Israel passed in the Senate this week but still faces heavy opposition in the House of Representatives. 

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