Russia sends its zombie soldiers against Avdiivka the most dangerous

Russia sends its “zombie” soldiers against Avdiivka, the most dangerous trench in Donbass

The apocalyptic image shows a field full of weeds and filled with motionless bodies in green military uniforms. “They’re Russian, look at them,” Stella murmurs. Some of these bodies stand up after a few minutes. Mostly no. “Later others will come and more, like sleepwalkers. We see it every day,” says the soldier from an air reconnaissance unit on the Avdiivka front in Donetsk province, the focus of the fiercest fighting in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Kremlin forces have been attacking the industrial city of Avdiivka in waves for weeks, like zombies, an anthill of tunnels, factories, bunkers and trenches dug up during the 2014 war in the eastern region of Donbass. Russia punishes this with bombings. Constants and the siege by zombie troops, as he did before in Bakhmut. Avdiivka is now a collection of rubble, sinkholes and buildings stitched together by projectiles. Another frozen hell.

“It seems like they are back,” spits Aleksandr, sergeant of the 47th separate mechanized brigade. The burly soldier advances through the thick and sticky mud of the Donbass towards his group's position, just a few kilometers from the besieged mining town. where an American Paladin howitzer is in use. They have been stationed on the Avdiivka front for months and are sinking in the mud. They resist the attacks of Moscow troops who try to encircle the city from the flanks to avoid the street fighting they faced in Bakhmut. The sergeant lights a cigarette. Cover your ears. “The [disparo] “It was like that from the beginning,” he comments. The bombings sound close, but he doesn't even blink.

A Ukrainian commander in a trench on the Avdiivka front in the east of the country, December 16.A Ukrainian commander in a trench on the Avdiivka front in the east of the country, December 16. Anadolu (Anadolu via Getty Images)

The 47th Brigade, like many others, is on an ammunition diet. Their arsenals are exhausted. They fight with what is available to them, not always with what is best suited to achieve the goal, Aleksandr admits, shrugging his shoulders. Kiev is seeking to receive more missiles from its Western allies. The EU promised Ukraine one million artillery shells but has only been able to deliver less than half of that and is still struggling to increase its industrial capacity to meet that commitment. Last Thursday, the United States announced another shipment – possibly the last for some time due to the Republican blockade – of various types of high mobility air defense ammunition and anti-tank artillery.

Meanwhile, Russia has focused its war economy on the invasion effort. Western sanctions and market isolation have not prevented the Kremlin from devoting most of its production capacity to weapons. They make rockets in bread factories, they assemble ammunition in the tractor industry. They try to replenish themselves at all costs. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not given up his goal of subjugating Ukraine. Their main war effort is now focused on conquering the entire Donbass region.

Russia sends its zombie soldiers against Avdiivka the most dangerous

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The Ukrainian weapons, some of which are supplied by Western allies, are overwhelmed in many places on the front. Also in Avdiivka. “Russia doesn’t have better weapons, but it does have more material. And their strategy is to fire everything,” explains Yevgeny, one of the soldiers of the 47th Brigade, which is equipped with weapons such as the US-made M-2 Bradley and Leopard 2 tanks supplied by NATO allies . The Kremlin fires artillery and drones of various types and uses frontal attacks, fake attacks and smoke to conceal the attacks, and closely monitors all roads in the direction of Avdiivka, where, in addition to regular Russian troops, convicts recruited for front-line operations and various contractors, among others , a unit made up of former mercenaries from the Wagner Group is fighting, as Russian military bloggers report.

In recent weeks there has also been a mine rain that has spread and made roads and fields impassable. Also for the few civilians who still live in an area of ​​eastern Ukraine that Putin said he wanted to liberate and that is bearing one of the worst consequences of this large-scale war, now entering its third year, and that he is suffering the consequences of the Donbas separatists carries on himself. For the tough people of the mining regions of eastern Ukraine, every day for a decade has been a new episode of endless war.

Putin wants Avdiivka, once one of the hearts of Donbass, as his next play. He already wanted to control it during the 2014 war through the pro-Russian separatists he supported. He did not make it. Since then, the mining town, which had a population of 32,000 before the invasion, had become one of Ukraine's reinforced military strongholds. However, Russia managed to advance its positions to the point of encirclement at immense human and material costs. Further south, Moscow has taken control of the ruins of Marinka after a brutal siege. All that remains of the city, which had 10,000 inhabitants before the war with its schools, parks and shops, is charred rubble.

According to a report from the Estonian Ministry of Defense, the Kremlin's brutal operations have managed to capture more territory than it lost in 2023. However, none of the devastated enclaves captured in the east and south represent a turning point that will change the balance in the line of the more than 1,300-kilometer-long battle front, which has hardly changed significantly after the failure of the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive this year.

Russian military vehicles were destroyed on December 23 on the Avdiivka front in eastern Ukraine. Russian military vehicles were destroyed on December 23 on the Avdiivka front in eastern Ukraine. Libkos (Getty Images)

Ukraine is working on the Avdiivka front, launching artillery strikes to stop the Russian advance and protect the movement of its attack groups. Andrei, a six-foot-tall, speechless soldier, has just recovered from a wound sustained in one of these attacks. He operates a Soviet heavy machine gun and was hit by Russian fire a month ago. He says he still has shrapnel in his back. “That’s where it stays, as a reminder,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. After the capture of Marinka, the Russian attack on Avdiivka slowed somewhat. On New Year's Eve, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the entrance to the city and some of its bunkers to decorate military personnel stationed there. According to Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia has now increased the number of reserves in the region.

Russian forces have been pushing for weeks toward a coking plant that was once one of the largest in Europe and now represents another one of those apocalyptic landscapes. “The situation is difficult and we try to joke about everything and about it,” says Sergeant Aleksandr. “When we saw them approaching the factory, we joked that they were watching the coke being snorted. “They don’t know what kind of cocaine they are looking for, they go there like drug addicts,” jokes the soldier.

Russia's war against Ukraine has become a battle of attrition and position, with Kremlin troops attempting to seize small swaths of land without regard to the loss of life. British intelligence also claims that Russia has suffered the highest number of casualties in the war so far, particularly due to the bloody Battle of Avdiivka. The UK Ministry of Defense says the daily number of Russian casualties in Ukraine has risen by almost 300 over the course of 2023 and that if it continues, it will have lost more than half a million soldiers by the end of 2024. USA The secret service assures: In addition, Russia is executing soldiers who are retreating on the Avdiivka front.

Ukrainian troops also suffered heavy losses. Neither Kiev nor Moscow report any victims. Last week, in an unusual press conference, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valeri Zaluzhni, pointed out that the loss of life was not a variable for Russia to change its strategy, and admitted that the case could occur Ukrainian forces withdraw to positions outside of Avdiivka back. “We will defend as much as we can, as long as we have the strength to do so. If the forces are not enough and we see that it is better to save people, then of course we will make this decision and save people,” he assured. Kiev's strategy of holding Bakhmut for nine months at great cost, which also diverted forces elsewhere, is still having an impact.

Anton Filipovich, a resident of Novoselivka Persha, a village on the Avdiivka front.Anton Filipovich, resident of Novoselivka Persha, a town on the Avdiivka front.María Sahuquillo

Meanwhile, Russian troops are advancing towards Novoselivka Persha, a dozen kilometers from Avdiivka. They have already managed to take a stand seven kilometers from the small town. Artillery thunders in a landscape already wounded since the war in Donbass. In a small square in front of the House of Culture, which Russia destroyed a few weeks ago, stands almost intact the statue of a Soviet soldier who died in World War II, which Russia calls the Great Patriotic War. “Stupid bastards,” complains Anton Filipovich. The man who served in the Soviet Army near the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan looks through the gate of his house and sits on the bench at the entrance. He shakes his head: “I don’t like any of this. Putin is a real idiot. I don't understand why he's attacking us. Don’t you have enough land?”

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