110th Mechanized Brigade photo

Marching quickly under a cloudy sky on Sunday, Russian troops infiltrated Avdiivka.

Four months after a pair of Russian field armies, together with 40,000 troops and thousands of vehicles, first attacked toward Avdiivka—a Ukrainian stronghold just northwest of Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine—the long, bloody campaign may be culminating.

“The situation in the city has become critical,” Ukrainian journalist Andriy Tsaplienko wrote.

If the campaign does culminate, and the Russians prevail, it will be clear who largely is to blame: Russia-aligned Republicans in the U.S. Congress, who last fall began blockading U.S. aid to Ukraine and, as a consequence, starved Ukrainian troops of the ammunition they depend on to match the Russians’ own firepower.

“Avdiivka urgently needs fresh reserves and rotation of units,” Ukrainian correspondent Yuriy Butusov explained Sunday. “Ammunition is also necessary—supplies are also extremely small [and] the enemy has a great advantage.”

The Avdiivka garrison has held for a decade—ever since Russian troops and their allies first attacked in eastern Ukraine, back in 2014. And for the nearly two years since Russia widened its war on Ukraine, the soldiers of the Ukrainian army’s 110th Mechanized Brigade have been the city’s main defenders.

It’s not that the Ukrainian eastern command didn’t reinforce Avdiivka when it became clear that conquering the city was one of the Kremlin’s main objectives: it did.

The elite 47th Mechanized Brigade with its American-made M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles rolled into positions north of Avdiivka in order to defend Stepove, an adjacent settlement. The 53rd Mechanized Brigade meanwhile arrived south of Avdiivka.

But the 110th Brigade plus some border guards and commandos alone defend the city center.

The 2,000-person brigade never has rotated out for rest. Day after day, it fights: infantry pile into trenches; drone-operators scurry into abandoned buildings to set up antennae and launch their explosive, one-way drones; gunners take aim with grenade-launchers and anti-tank missiles.

For four months, the 110th and reinforcing brigades bled attacking Russian columns. By December, the Russians had suffered 13,000 casualties—dead and maimed—and lost hundreds of armored vehicles. Two months later, their casualties may have doubled.

But the Kremlin keeps feeding fresh troops into the meat-grinder. Slowly, and at great cost in people and equipment, the Russians have inched forward—first on Avdiivka’s flanks, and then into the city itself.

The Ukrainians’ small drones always were the key to the city’s defense. Surveillance drones would spot the Russians coming. First-person-view attack drones would harry them until Ukrainian infantry or M-2 and tank crews could finish them off.

When the clouds gathered on Sunday, grounding many drones and blinding others, the Russians heaved forward. Scurrying along the edge of a quarry abutting the city’s northern edge, Russian troops “bypassed the Ukrainian battle formations and entrenched themselves in the buildings,” according to Tsaplienko.

Butusov described the panic as the 110th Brigade scrambled to respond. Officers ordered everyone, even elderly mechanics, to grab weapons and head for the trenches. “These grandfathers left,” Butusov quoted a source as saying. “Most of them died in battle.”

“I saw from a drone how an assault group of Russians attacked a house … where two of our fighters fought to the last,” Butusov added. “The house burned down, no one surrendered.”

If the Russians can hang onto their new positions in northern Avdiivka, they can threaten the Ukrainian garrison’s supply lines, threading into the ruined city from the west. As of Sunday, the Russians were just a few hundred yards from the main road in, Tsaplienko wrote. Close enough to hit trucks with handheld weapons.

Avdiivka may fall, potentially making it the first Ukrainian city the Russians have captured since seizing Bakhmut nine months ago. If that happens, the Republicans who deprived the Ukrainians of ammunition shoulder much of the blame.

They can’t claim they didn’t know their intransigence might result in Ukrainian mechanics dying in cold trenches as the Ukrainians’ supporting guns fell silent. As early as December, around six weeks after Republicans first began blocking aid, Ukrainian units in and around Avdiivka noted their arsenals emptying out.

On Dec. 17, a Russian column took advantage of a foggy day and attacked Avdiivka from the south. Ukrainian drone-operators eventually spotted the Russians, but lacked any means of striking them. “We just don’t have ammo,” one operator wrote.

The Russian column struck a mine and turned back. The Ukrainian drone crews watched the Russians walk back to the safety of their own lines. “It’s very, very awful to see how Russians are walking without punishment,” the operator complained.

Those same Russians seemingly survived to attack again. And again. Until the weather, and the Ukrainians’ dwindling firepower, finally welcomed them into Avdiivka.

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