Surviving Avdiivka: Russia intensifies assault on city deemed a ‘second Bakhmut’

AVDIIVKA, Donetsk Oblast – Avdiivka is an eerie city to drive into in March 2023. One year into Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, but nine years into the Donbas war, the compact city just 10 kilometers from the center of occupied Donetsk is barely holding on.

There is little choice of route, as previously used entrances to the town have been swallowed by the red bulges on the map that represent recent Russian advances on either side of the city.

The approach is quiet enough with the windows down, but impact craters and burned-out vehicles on the roadside attest to the frequent targeting of the road.

At the edge of the urban area, two soldiers pose for photographs at a sign saying “Avdiivka is Ukraine!”

Once inside, the atmosphere is noticeably different from that observed by the Kyiv Independent in the similarly embattled city of Bakhmut in January.

Where in Bakhmut, dozens of civilians could still be seen traversing the streets by foot or bicycle, seemingly oblivious to the destruction around them, the few left in Avdiivka rarely go far from the safety of their basements.

A parking spot was found up behind the wall of a five-story building facing northwest, the only direction Russian forces could not fire from.

At the entrance, volunteers in bulletproof vests handed out food packages to a handful of residents huddling close to the door.

Nearby, utility workers cleared debris, collecting fallen trees that could be used for fuel.

“Look at this one,” one of them said, presenting a jagged piece of shrapnel in his canvas glove, “it’s still hot.”





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In front-line areas across Donetsk Oblast, those who remain despite the destruction of their homes often say they are waiting for Russian forces to arrive. In this basement, this was not the case.

“We live in Ukraine,” said Ivashchenko, “it’s our own victory we are waiting for.”

As the bombardment quietened down, it became possible to make a quick run for the car, miraculously untouched by shrapnel.

Leaving Avdiivka, rifle and machine gun bursts could be heard to the south and west, matching Russian reports about assaults on the city that afternoon.

Later in the evening, a text message appeared from Maiorova, who was able to catch some signal.

“Did you make it out?” it read. “We were terribly worried for you.”

Note from the author:

Hi, this is Francis Farrell, who wrote this piece from on the ground in the middle of Russia's neverending assault on Ukrainian cities in Donetsk Oblast. The battles here are hell on earth, but it can be difficult to understand what is actually happening on the ground, so we watched it for ourselves. Ukraine achieved stunning victories over autumn, but the way Russia is able to keep up their attack shows that this war is far from over. Please consider supporting our reporting