David Axe


Oct 23, 2023


Four months after Ukrainian forces launched their long-anticipated counteroffensive in southern and eastern Ukraine, Russian forces tried to shift the war’s momentum back in their favor.

On Oct. 10, the Russian 2nd Combined Arms Army and attached forces from the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic—altogether amounting to at least three brigades, each with a couple of thousand troops—attacked around Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold just northwest of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

They rolled directly into well-prepared kill-zones north and south of Avdiivka. For two weeks straight, the Russians have mounted attack after attack. For two weeks straight, Ukrainian mines, drones and artillery have blasted the assault columns into oblivion.

Russian losses now exceed a hundred armored vehicles along with hundreds, potentially thousands, of dead and injured men. The intensity of the losses—that is, vehicle write-offs and human casualties per day, divided by area—now matches what the Russians experienced during the failed crossing of the Siversky Donets River in May 2022 and the attempted assault on the Ukrainian garrison in Vuhledar six months later.

“Within the span of a week and a half, Russia suffered the loss of approximately a brigade-sized force,” Ukrainian analysis team Frontelligence Insight reported. That’s as much as a third of the people and equipment the 2nd CAA initially committed to the assault.

The Ukrainian garrison, by contrast, has lost just a few vehicles—but losses among Ukrainian infantry might be relatively heavier. Ukrainian filmmaker-turned-soldier Oleg Sentsov described one close fight. “The orcs were pushing wave after wave of infantry and armored groups, which were largely destroyed by our artillery, drones and a tank.”

“We got lucky,” Sentsov added. “We got lucky many times that day. Including when we escaped that encirclement under cover of two [M-2] Bradleys that came for us. But not everyone who took part in this operation was so fortunate.”

The Avdiivka operation has become a debacle for the Russians, but not for a paucity of resources. Yes, the 2nd CAA has committed more than a few do-it-yourself infantry fighting vehicles, experimental armored personnel carriers as well as museum-vintage APCs the Kremlin pulled out of long-term storage.

But the bulk of the assault equipment is modern: T-80 tanks, BMP-2 IFVs and BTR-82 APCs. And the Russians enjoy significant close air support. Conflict Intelligence Team, an independent

analysis group, noted air strikes on purported Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka by Russian warplanes lobbing Universal Gliding and Correction Module guided bombs.

These powerful glide-bombs, some weighing more than 3,000 pounds, might not be as elegant and accurate as Ukraine’s own, smaller glide-bombs are. But with their heavier explosive fill, they are “one of the biggest fears” among Ukrainian troops, according to Ukrainian soldier Olexandr Solon’ko.

But the Ukrainians are dug-in, and well-equipped with explosives-laden first-person-view drones. Equally importantly, they’ve mined the main approaches to Avdiivka. And their supporting artillery has tapped supplies of American- and Turkish-made cluster munitions.

Russian assaults almost always end the same way: Ukrainian drones see them coming, they strike mines and fall into disarray—and then the drones zoom in and the cluster shells rain down.

The Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka is holding. “The [Russian armed forces] continue their offensive actions, but without significant success,” CIT reported. “The [armed forces of Ukraine] maintain defensive positions as before and do not attempt their own counteroffensives.”

That the Ukrainians aren’t counterattacking is significant. It’s possible that, in assaulting Avdiivka, the 2nd CAA is trying to draw Ukrainian brigades away from the southern front, the locus of Kyiv’s counteroffensive.

So far, however, the Ukrainians aren’t taking the bait. While it seems the Ukrainian army has reinforced Avdiivka with elements of the southern-based 47th Mechanized Brigade, the army isn’t putting its counteroffensive on hold in order to devote more resources to the Avdiivka fight. They’re counting on the drones, mines and artillery to win the fight.

“The resistance and skills exhibited by Ukrainian defenders have proven to be far more formidable than the Russians had anticipated in their plans,” Frontelligence Insight explained.

But the battle isn’t over. The 2nd CAA has received reinforcements and is pressing its attacks. For the Ukrainians, according to CIT, “the situation in the Avdiivka direction remains quite challenging.”