(Reuters) – Russian forces relied heavily on aerial attacks on Thursday in their slow-moving campaign to win control of eastern Ukraine and resorted to new smaller attack groups in pressing to capture the beleaguered town of Avdiivka.
Moscow has focused its attention on the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since failing to advance on Kyiv in the early days of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
It has set its sights since mid-October on Avdiivka, a gateway to the Russian-held regional centre of Donetsk — 20 km (12 miles) to the east. The town has resisted capture while coming under sustained enemy fire.
“For the second day in a row, occupying forces have been actively using kamikaze drones and aviation. And the number of combat clashes has significantly increased,” Ukrainian military spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun told national television.
Russian losses were mounting sharply in terms of both men and equipment in the southern theatre of operations, he said.
Ukraine’s General Staff, in its evening bulletin, said its forces had rebuffed 15 attacks in Avdiivka and nearby villages, in addition to 34 attacks reported in its morning account.
Media outlet Espreso TV said Russian forces were pressing from the north but had made no inroads into the “industrial zone” outside the city centre.
Ukrainian serviceman Andriy Shyshuk said the new Russian tactic involved sending groups of up to five men into action and, with the backing of armoured vehicles and air cover, opening up bursts of heavy fire as they advance.
Shyshuk said the Russian forces had made little progress. He echoed President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s call for more fortifications around towns and other defensive points, but said this should be done by “engineering units, not assault units”.
Fortifications were erected around Avdiivka after Ukrainian forces recaptured the town from Russian-financed separatists who seized it briefly in 2014 as they captured chunks of eastern Ukraine.
Official Russian accounts rarely mention Avdiivka. Russian war bloggers on Thursday said Moscow’s forces had made progress near the village of Stepove, north of the town, and “stabilised” the situation in the industrial zone.
Reuters could not verify accounts from either side.
Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Kyiv’s forces have recaptured a swathe of occupied territory in a lightning push through the northeast a year ago. But they have made only marginal gains in a counteroffensive launched in the east and south in June.
(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Oleksandr Kiozhukhar; Editing by Leslie Adler)