Russia disregards losses, presses on in Ukraine's Avdiivka

FILE PHOTO: A police officer stands in front of a damaged building in Avdiivka

(Reuters) - Russian forces are disregarding heavy losses and pressing on with a drive to capture the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday.

Russia has focused on the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since failing in its initial drive on the capital Kyiv after mounting its invasion in February 2022.

Over the past two weeks, Russia has concentrated on Avdiivka in Donetsk, a town known in peacetime for its big coking plant and now seen as a bulwark of Ukrainian resistance.

"The enemy is trying to move forward and then we beat them back," Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesperson for Ukraine's southern groups of forces, said on national TV.

"So by no means can you speak of a fixed situation of some sort. Heavy fighting is continuing, though activity has subsided somewhat. The enemy is going through some kind of regrouping."

Russian forces were relying on infantry, using small assault groups of 30 to 40 men, Shtupun said, giving Russia's losses in the last six days as 2,500 dead and wounded in the area.

"This is quite significant even for Russia, bearing in mind that they do not look after their own men," Shtupun said.

Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka's military administration, said Russia was applying pressure from the north but was unable to get past a rail line under Ukrainian control.

He also dismissed reports that Russian troops had secured control of one of the large slag heaps dominating the town's industrial landscape.

"They put up flags there and tried to make some kind of spectacle," Barabash said.

Valeriy Prozapas, a Ukrainian captain, told Espreso TV that the Russians were acting to exploit the fact that Avdiivka was "de facto half surrounded".

"The second issue is political. They have little to be proud of and have to sell to their population some sort of victory, even if it is only an interim one," Prozapas said.

Ukraine's counteroffensive, launched in June, has resulted in the capture of devastated villages in the east and some settlements in the southern sector, but the pace is far slower than last year's advance through the northeast.

Russian accounts of the latest fighting made no mention of Avdiivka, but said Russian troops had repelled 15 Ukrainian attacks near Kupiansk, farther north.

Ukrainian officials also acknowledged heavy fighting near Kupiansk, a town initially seized by troops but taken back by Ukraine in last year's rapid advance through the northeast.

Authorities in Kharkiv region said they were imposing a mandatory evacuation of families from 10 localities in the area.

Reuters could not independently confirm the battle reports from either side.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Oleksandr Kozhukhar; Editing by Tom Hogue)