A serious escalation started on 29 January in Avdiivka, a town on Ukrainian government-controlled territory in the Eastern Ukraine, close to demarcation line and 6km to the north of Donetsk. According to official reports, seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed and dozens wounded since fighting intensified. Media also report that 2 civilians were killed. Heavy shelling from separatist-controlled territories also affected residence areas. The town is cut off from electricity, heating and water. Here are key facts about this fighting:
- Avdiivka is of strategic importance for both sides of the conflict. Anastasia Magazowa, correspondent for Deutsche Welle who is currently reporting from Avdiivka, writes that it is a home town for Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant which is one of the biggest coke producers in Europe. Avdiivka town is also a major transport hub in Donetsk region. According to Minsk agreements, Avdiivka belongs to the government-controlled territory. Previously this town has been shelled on numerous occasions. Map showing location of the town with regard to the frontline is available here.
- Pro-Russian militants started their attacks near Avdiivka on 29 January. Since 31 January the town has been shelled by Grad rockets. Residence districts in Avdiivka have been affected. Escalation is also reported near Mariupol and in Luhansk oblast. Donetsk-based social networks post numerous videos of Grad shelling from Donetsk and suburbs presumably i Avdiivka direction (example) but also signs that residential districts in Donetsk itself were affected by return shelling.
- Humanitarian situation in Avdiivka is very difficult. As a result of the shelling, critical infrastructure of the town has been destroyed. This has caused a humanitarian crisis: civilians have no water, electricity and heating, while the temperature is –18 Celsius and keeps going lower. Mobile heating and food units have been set up in the city. Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine has already expressed concerns and is sending humanitarian help. Meanwhile, Ukraine is preparing evacuation —up to 12,000 people can be evacuated, according to Ukrainian official sources. Reporters on the ground say that some inhabitants are already leaving the town.
- Separatists’ offence can be a response to Ukrainian maneuvers, some observers say. Christopher Miller, a correspondent for RFE/RL, writes in his coverage that “since mid-December Ukraine’s armed forces have edged farther into parts of the grey zone in or near the war-worn cities of Avdiivka, Debaltseve, Dokuchaievsk, Horlivka, and Mariupol, shrinking the space between them and the separatist fighters”. Alexander Hug, principal deputy chief monitor of the OSCE SMM to Ukraine, quoted in RFE/RL article, said that “direct result of forward moves is escalation in tension”. Ukrainian side, however, responds that troops were not violating Minsk agreements as they were not crossing the demarcation line and were moving inside the government-controlled (under Minsk deals) territory. Ukrainian regional administration also says that it is vital to have government control over towns in the grey zone to stop large-scale smuggling.
- Ceasefire guarantees from “DPR” and Russia did not last. There were several attempts to establish ceasefire, but it has been broken after 15 minutes of less, according to Hromadske journalists who are reporting from Avdiivka. Same information came from Pavlo Zhebrivsky, the head of Ukraine’s military and civil administration in government-controlled Donetsk oblast.
- Both sides blame each other for the escalation. The escalation took place during Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko official visit to Germany, one of the key countries of Normandy format. Poroshenko has cut his official visit to Berlin short and held a briefing with military representatives to coordinate the government’s measures. Ukraine’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that “the current escalation in Donbass is a clear indication of Russia’s continued disregard of its commitments under the Minsk agreements.” In turn, Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, accused Ukrainian soldiers of launching an attack on separatists across the Avdiivka frontline. Paradoxically Russian media like TV channel Zvezda also blame Ukraine for shelling Avdiivka itself, as if Ukraine was attacking a town on its own territory. They also also continue producing fakes: same TV channel Zvezda, for example, published photo from Avdiivka by Kostiantyn Reutskyi, a Ukrainian activist, falsely claiming they show destruction in DPR-controlled town.
- Several media continue life coverage of Avdiivka escalation, including RFE/RL and Hromadske. Regular updates are also provided by Deutsche Welle’s journalist Anastasia Magazova.
Prepared by Vitaliy Rybak, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Internews Ukraine, as well as Alya Shandra, Euromaidan Press, for UkraineWorld group.