Some Ukrainians refuse to leave Avdiivka despite Russian shelling
When the shelling begins, those left behind in Avdiivka’s devastation barely flinch. In truth, the bombardments are barely stopping. In this ravaged city in eastern Ukraine, the thud of Russian artillery echoes every minute or two.
“Do you hear? It’s flying,” one resident said as a rocket passed overhead. “Then there’s a boom,” he added as it exploded.
As Russia carries out a broad-front offensive in eastern Ukraine, it has in recent weeks stepped up its bombardment of Avdiivka and outlying villages near the Russian-controlled regional capital, Donetsk. The dam left Avdiivka, already battered and largely abandoned by residents after a year of war, without electricity, running water or shelter intact for its civilian resisters.
Moscow’s months-long advance has been slow: it has yet to capture any important towns. But it is also devastating, causing tens of thousands of deaths and reducing the places in its path to ruins.
On Monday, the Ukrainian government banned civilians from entering the city, citing security concerns; Avdiivka’s top official, Vitaliy Barabash, called it “like a post-apocalyptic film site”. A team of reporters from The New York Times visited on Monday just before the ban was announced.
Residential communities were dotted with ruins of buildings, sidewalks and wrecked vehicles, making the streets nearly impassable by car. Schools, clinics, shopping centers and apartment buildings had been left with gaping holes. Pieces of unexploded ordnance came out of the streets.
The remaining residents lived in dank, candle-lit basements under Soviet-era apartment buildings, overrun with suffocating smells, where they had set up beds, makeshift kitchens, bookshelves and small Orthodox shrines. Ukrainian police went from basement to basement, trying to persuade civilians to evacuate.
The long-time objective of the Russian offensive, Bakhmut, lies 34 miles to the northeast, and Moscow has not ceased its assault there, even as fighting intensifies elsewhere along the front. , officials on both sides said on Tuesday. Russian forces fought for nine months to seize Bakhmut, advancing from three directions and recently taking control of the eastern side of the city, but the Ukrainians held firm on the western side.
“They are not giving up on their attempts to encircle and capture the city,” General Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said on the Telegram messaging app.
Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed leader in the Donetsk region, told Russian state television that Kremlin forces were moving forward, wresting Ukrainians control of a metal factory in the west of Bakhmut, a claim that could not be independently verified. .
The battle there killed or injured thousands, and officials on both sides claimed the carnage served to wear down his enemy.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in an update of information Tuesday that a parallel effort to encircle and capture Avdiivka had become a high Russian priority but had “made only marginal progress at the cost of heavy armored vehicle losses”.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian army said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had repelled 62 attacks in the past 24 hours in Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka, another nearby eastern town.
With the arrival of more powerful Western weapons and the conscription of new troops, Ukraine is expected to launch a counter-offensive soon, hoping to retake territory from Russian control. Analysts say the main thrust should be further west, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
In Zaporizhzhia, “there is a fairly obvious increase in the number of troops on both sides, military equipment, etc.,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, the United Nations’ top nuclear energy watchdog, said in a statement on Tuesday. an interview. “Our teams are also observing, hearing and seeing more military activity, including detonations.”
Mr. Grossi is in the region and plans to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, seized by Russia last year, on Wednesday. It was repeatedly damaged in the fighting, raising fears of an incident that could cause a major release of radiation. Mr. Grossi is trying to negotiate an agreement to make the factory and its surroundings a demilitarized zone.
Russia has repeatedly alluded to another type of nuclear danger: the use of nuclear weapons. On Sunday, Putin said Russia may soon station such weapons in its ally Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north. The Belarusian government said on Tuesday it would be open to Russian tactical nuclear weapons on its soil.
Western analysts say such talks are most likely bluster and note that Russia already has the capability for nuclear strikes in Ukraine, but the threats keep the subject on the minds of Ukrainians and Westerners.
The United States has informed Russia that it will no longer share data on US nuclear forces as required by the New START nuclear arms control treaty, Biden administration officials said on Tuesday. Mr Putin said last month that Russia was suspending its participation in the treaty and had already blocked US inspections of its arsenal under the treaty.
Despite the suffering and the risks, neither Moscow nor Kyiv has shown any serious interest in ending the war, except on terms that the other side calls unacceptable. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has said his top priority is conquering the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which his forces primarily control. His government claims to have annexed these two provinces, along with Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, to Russia, although it does not hold the entirety of any of the four.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country would accept nothing less than the withdrawal or expulsion of Russians from all Ukrainian territory. Stopping the fighting before then, according to Ukrainian and American officials, would only consolidate Russia’s illegal gains.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken reiterated that position Tuesday in a thinly veiled swipe at a proposal from China, Russia’s most important ally, that includes a ceasefire. Although he did not mention China by name, Mr Blinken warned against any plan that would simply give Russia room “to rest and refit and then attack again”, he said. he told foreign ministers in a video meeting of foreign ministers around the world.
“What looks attractive on the surface – who wouldn’t want the guns to be silenced? – can also be a very cynical trap that we have to be very, very careful about,” he added.
Where the guns are loudest, near frontlines across eastern and southern Ukraine, most residents fled long ago, but some remain. This is evident in Avdiivka, which sits just outside the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk since separatist Kremlin proxy forces seized it in 2014.
Of the 30,000 people who lived in Avdiivka before the full-scale Russian invasion, Ukrainians say only hundreds remain. They mostly stay underground, where it’s safer. A retiree said she hadn’t been out for five months.
People stayed for various reasons. Some say they are too sick, others too attached to their pre-war life. Most are middle-aged and older.
“I have lived here for 43 years. How can I leave Avdiivka? said an older resident, Polina, who came out of a basement to drop off cat food for a neighbor and check the damage to her apartment. Like others interviewed for this article, she only gave her first name, fearing for her safety.
“At my old age, I don’t want to jump into different apartments elsewhere,” she added.
Nearby, a building was still smoking after a recent rocket attack.
Still others say they are too poor to move. Some seem psychologically paralyzed after months of bombardment. Many simply sit on their beds and stare.
And in a region with strong ties to Russia, loyalties are sometimes divided. Two older residents appeared to support Russia and accused both sides of the war of bombing their community.
Many locals knew a pair of police officers who had turned up on Monday from previous visits and were used to their attempts to persuade them to leave.
A mother, Natalya, agreed to be evacuated with her 3-year-old daughter, Marina. She was distraught as she packed their few belongings in plastic bags and said she had no money to start a new life.
But most of those approached pushed the officers away, then rushed into their basements and slammed the doors.
The report was provided by Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Kyiv, Edward Wong of Washington and Pretty Liston from London.