As the weather in Ukraine steadily grows colder and wetter, Russian forces are rushing to achieve some kind of victory—however Pyrrhic—before a potentially long winter pause.
They’ve set their sights on Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold just northwest of Russian-occupied Donetsk city in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
But there’s a problem for the Russian 2nd Combined Arms Army and other formations in the area: reaching a starting point for an assault on Avdiivka’s most vulnerable northern flank requires Russian assault groups to march for miles through a drone and artillery kill-zone.
Which is why Arty Green, a famous Ukrainian artillery commander, seems to be enjoying the battle for Avdiivka, which began six weeks ago and grinds on with staggering casualties and only incremental Russian gains.
“I’ll even reveal a secret,” Arty Green said in a recent interview. “There’s a competition between our brigades. We strike one target, then we see a neighboring brigade doing the same, then another one.”
Half a dozen Ukrainian brigades, including the battle-hardened 110th Mechanized and the high-tech 47th Mechanized, defend the Avdiivka sector. Possibly two artillery brigades, the 43rd and 55th, support the mechanized and infantry units.
A mountainous waste dump and the settlement of Stepove anchor the Ukrainian defenses north of Avdiivka. To stage for an attack on these defenses, Russian brigades must travel along roads and across fields that expose them to heavy bombardment. Heavy as in “apocalyptic.”
“Each column that advances along this direction is within firing range from several of our brigades,” Arty Green said. The Ukrainians are so close that they can aim even their shortest-range fires at the approaching Russians. “They are within striking distance of mortars and brigade-level tactical artillery.”
Taking account of the mortar platoons, attached anti-tank companies and artillery battalions and the powerful independent artillery brigades—to say nothing of all the drone-operators—the Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka probably can point hundreds of mortar tubes, big guns and launchers at a deploying Russian battalion.
That’s potentially several Ukrainian indirect-fire weapons per Russian tank and fighting vehicle in any given assault. This firepower imbalance grows even worse for the Russians when you take into account that the best Ukrainian howitzers—the 43rd Brigade’s German-made PzH 2000s and the 55th Brigade’s French-made Caesars—fire American-supplied cluster shells.
Each shell scatters 72 grenade-size bomblets and can turn a muddy field into a cemetery for entire platoons and companies.
The Russian-killing artillery contest north of Avdiivka helps to explain why Russian losses have been so extreme in recent weeks relative to Ukrainian losses. But the bloodshed doesn’t mean Avdiivka will remain free.
The Kremlin might just throw brigade after brigade at Avdiivka until the Ukrainians retreat and there’s nothing left in the sector but ruins and dead Russians. Then Russian leaders can declare “victory” and quietly get to work rebuilding the field armies they wrecked in weeks of near-suicidal assaults.
“That’s typical of their thinking,” Arty Green mused.