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'Holding Avdiivka is of great importance, but soldiers' lives come first,' Ukrainian Armed Forces rep

'Holding Avdiivka is of great importance, but soldiers' lives come first,' Ukrainian Armed Forces rep Spokesperson for the Tavria operational-strategic group Dmytro Lykhoviy (photo: TOSG)

The Ukrainian forces continue to hold Avdiivka, where Russian troops have now directed their main efforts. Reinforcements have arrived at the city, 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, and it describes the situation there as "Avdiivka hell." According to the latest data, the enemy has begun using phosphorus shells. Moscow's goal is to capture Avdiivka (or rather its ruins) before Putin's elections.

In a blitz interview with RBC-Ukraine, the Spokesperson for the Tavria operational-strategic group, which includes Avdiivka in its area of responsibility, Dmytro Lykhoviy, discussed the fighting and defense of the city on February 14. Given the very dynamic frontline situation, the responses were updated as of the morning of February 16.

How complex is the situation in Avdiivka now?

The situation in the city is very dynamic. I repeat the words of the commander of the Tavria operational-strategic group of troops General Tarnavskyi: the situation is tense but controlled. I do not comment on events on the frontline in real-time mode. It's a thankless task, and it wouldn't correspond to the safety of operations. I don't do that.

Overall, the Defense Forces are conducting a defensive operation in the Avdiivka direction. At the same time, the situation can change on both sides (the interview was recorded on February 14 - ed).

Fierce battles are taking place within the city. Our troops are using all available forces and means to deter the enemy. We are strengthening the blockade line, creating new firing positions, and observation posts. We continue to prepare fortifications considering possible scenarios.

Fresh units that have come from replenishment have been brought into battle. Field commanders know their tasks and execute them according to the plan. This is a plan of higher command to stabilize the situation in this direction.

Obviously, the Russian army predominates over our forces on the Avdiivka front in personnel, artillery, and aviation.

For example, on February 13, the enemy conducted 73 airstrikes throughout the operational zone of the TOSG, including the use of guided bombs. It is the highest number since the beginning of this year, indicating how the enemy is advancing its offensive actions. Guided aviation bombs are launched from a significant distance from the line of contact, so the enemy's aircraft do not enter the area of our air defense action. These bombs turn both military positions and civilian objects into piles of rubble.

The number of artillery bombardments from the aggressor side is also staggering. On February 12, the enemy conducted 1,267 artillery strikes across the TOSG zone, also the highest number since the beginning of this year. The majority of these shellings are in the Avdiivka direction. Our aviation and artillery are also in action, inflicting damage on the enemy. Additional ammunition volumes have been allocated to the relevant units.

On February 12, the highest number of Russian casualties in the TOSG operational zone was recorded - 645 persons, on February 13 - 610. Even though the enemy suffers such losses, they still continue to move forward.

Last year, the occupiers tried to bypass Avdiivka from the flank, to enter the city above the Avdiivka coking plant, but in the end, they had to crawl between the coking plant and the Avdiivka quarry. Initially, they entered the gardening community - it can be seen on the map as small summer cottages. Thus, battles in urban with all the features of using forces and means in such operational conditions have been going on for several days. Russia is also advancing on the city from the south.

The enemy sometimes simultaneously uses small assault groups numbering up to a detachment from several brigades or regiments for the attack. This indicates how large forces the enemy has thrown at Avdiivka simultaneously. Everyone understands that for the Moscow army, there is a political task - to capture at least some city before the presidential elections in Russia, which will take place in March.

At the same time, when the situation on any of the streets or alleys of Avdiivka becomes critical and when there is no point in defending a heap of rubble, the priority of each commander is to save the lives of the fighters, to adopt a flexible approach to combat and withdraw to other positions, to the second line of defense. So that the preserved fighters could then restore the lost positions. Thus, there is a maneuver of troops in threatening directions.

On February 13, DeepState reported that Russians managed to cut off the only paved road to the city - Industrial Avenue. What is the current logistics situation for Avdiivka?

I can only comment that supplies to Avdiivka and evacuation from the city have become more complicated. An alternative supply route, prepared in advance, has been activated.

Ivan Sekach, chief of public relations of the 110th Separate Mechanized Brigade, reported on Tuesday, February 13, that for the first time since the beginning of the major war, some units defending the city were fully withdrawn from combat for rest and rotation. At the same time, there is information that units of the 3rd Assault Brigade have arrived in Avdiivka. Was it a replacement?

Such an interpretation is incorrect. It was a natural rotation of some units on different positions, a change in defense lines of various military units. There was no weakening whatsoever. We are only strengthening this direction. Rotations, as such, can be discussed at another time.

So, in fact, reserves and reinforcements arrived, rather than one being replaced by another?

Yes. Another military unit arrived because, as already stated, we are employing fresh forces that have come for reinforcement. And there was some redistribution of defense lines.

Under what conditions would our units have to leave the city? And is there currently a threat of our units being encircled in Avdiivka?

There are active battles in urban areas in Avdiivka right now. Since November, the General Staff reports included "the enemy has not abandoned attempts to encircle Avdiivka." The situation like this has persisted for several months.

Overall, since 2014, this city has been on the frontline. Combat actions have always been ongoing in the suburbs of Avdiivka. The frontline only began shifting when the enemy concentrated an incredible amount of personnel in this small stretch and launched assaults to fulfill the sick political fantasies of the Russian dictator.

You mentioned this before, and sources in military and political circles have also told us, that Russians aim to capture Avdiivka just before Putin's presidential elections in mid-March. How realistic is it?

From what we see in our operational zone, Russians may aim to seize not only Avdiivka. For instance, in some places, the daily number of assaults on the Maryinka and Novopavlivka fronts exceeds the statistics of assaults on Avdiivka. This includes small villages like Novomykhailivka and Pobeda. But both there and in Avdiivka, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are standing in their way. Both personnel and commanders are putting in all efforts to prevent the enemy from capturing any inch of Ukrainian land.

Do you know how many civilians are still in Avdiivka?

According to the local military administration, last week there were 935 civilians in the city, only adults. The situation with civilian evacuation had already significantly worsened by then, as it had not been happening for several days. Volunteers, police units, and government representatives couldn't enter Avdiivka. Supplies were only going to the military defending the city.

On February 13, according to police data, five civilians – four men and one woman – were evacuated from Avdiivka.

Under the current conditions, verifying the consequences of Russian strikes on residential areas was very difficult and sometimes impossible. So, we cannot definitively determine the number of people killed due to enemy shelling in Avdiivka. For example, on February 8, occupiers struck an ATB supermarket storage facility on Central Avenue, killing many people who were hiding there. Even by the morning of February 14, local authorities still hadn't received verified information about the number of casualties.

Could you estimate Russian losses in personnel in the Avdiivka area since the intensification of their offensive in October last year?

I don't have such information. I can provide data from the beginning of this year in the Tavria operational zone. With my colleagues in the public relations department, we calculated that the total number of Russian losses in the zone of responsibility of our operational command, from Stepove to Nikopol, between the beginning of the year and February 14, is about 18,000. This is the number of occupiers who were incapacitated within one and a half months. In the last few weeks, most of the Russian losses are concentrated in the Donetsk direction, which includes Avdiivka.

Are Russians changing their tactics in Avdiivka since October?

The enemy is strong. They are deploying enormous resources and constantly introducing significant reserves into Avdiivka. As of February 14, military units and formations, particularly the 1st Army Corps, 2nd and 8th Armies, and the 41st Army Corps of the Russian Armed Forces, are engaged in combat on this front.

The enemy employs various sets of tactics. Mostly, it's small infantry groups conducting assault actions, sometimes reinforced with armored vehicles and tanks. But in urban combat conditions, there's a specificity. Lately, significant losses in armored vehicles forced the occupiers to switch to infantry assaults. They are sending convicts, former criminals, and those they value least ahead. One can see it considering who falls into captivity.

But overall, this is a strong, trained enemy. This is a regular army – mostly motorized rifle regiments, sometimes airborne troops, and special forces. This force should not be underestimated.

We need to understand that many settlements to the west of Avdiivka could become the second Mariupol, the second Bakhmut, and the second Bucha if Ukrainians do not replenish the ranks of the Armed Forces, do not support mobilization, and do not donate to the Armed Forces.

Holding Avdiivka is important to prevent Russian artillery and terror from spreading further into the western Donetsk region. It's about grinding down Russian resources and reserves, exhausting their army. But I'll emphasize once again that even in the toughest circumstances on the battlefield, the priority is the lives of the fighters. We fight with iron and brains, not just with iron and "flesh."