City’s Fall Leaves Ukraine With an Even Tougher Fight Ahead

With the Russian military’s capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka on Saturday, the front line has shifted substantially, setting the stage for the war’s next grueling chapter as Ukrainian forces retrench and Russian troops reform for future assaults.

Ukraine’s defeat in the embattled city, under attack since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists fought government forces for control of the country’s east, comes at an especially perilous time. As Russia’s full-scale invasion enters its third year, Ukrainian forces are low on ammunition and facing an increasing shortage of troops.

In the retreat from Avdiivka, these problems are exacerbated by the flat and unforgiving terrain outside the city. Without dominant hills, larger rivers or extensive fortifications of the kind it built around Avdiivka over the better part of a decade, Ukraine will probably have to cede more ground to hold back Russian units.

“They don’t have a well-established secondary line to pull back to,” said Michael Kofman, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “Much depends on whether Russian forces can keep pushing or if they run out of momentum.”

Even now, Russian troops, despite taking heavy casualties during their assault on Avdiivka, are applying pressure on various parts of the more than 600-mile front line, hoping that Ukraine cannot defend everywhere at once.

Where Russia will try to surge forward next is not yet known. The northeastern city of Kupiansk, the eastern town of Chasiv Yar and the southern village of Robotyne are all under threat, even with the smoke still settling around the ruins of Avdiivka.

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