Ukrainian Forces Abandon 2 Eastern Villages in Face of Relentless Russian Advance

Withdrawals coincide with unverified claims that a U.S.-supplied Abrams tank was destroyed—for the first time—near the Russian-held town of Avdiivka.
Ukrainian Forces Abandon 2 Eastern Villages in Face of Relentless Russian Advance
Ukrainian servicemen prepare their weapons during a military training exercise near the front line in the Donetsk region amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on Feb. 23, 2024. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)
Adam Morrow

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from two more villages near the eastern town of Avdiivka, which fell to Russian forces last week after months of fierce fighting.

“Our forces have withdrawn from the small villages of Sievierne and Stepove,” Ukrainian military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy said on Feb. 27.

“Heavy fighting for Sievierne went on yesterday evening and night.”

He claimed that Russian forces had suffered significant casualties during the engagement.

Ukrainian forces have since fallen back to more secure positions west of Avdiivka, which is now firmly in Russian hands, according to military officials in Kyiv.

A day earlier, Ukraine’s military announced the withdrawal of its forces from the nearby town of Lastochkyne, which is immediately west of Avdiivka.

“Units have withdrawn from Lastochkyne in order to consolidate their defenses ... and prevent the enemy from advancing farther westward,” Mr. Lykhoviy said in televised comments on Feb. 26.

On the same day, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that its forces had “liberated” Lastochkyne, thereby “improving their forward positions.”

The ministry further claimed that Russian forces had repulsed six counterattacks in the vicinity, inflicting considerable losses on Ukrainian troops and armor.

The Epoch Times couldn’t independently verify battlefield claims made by either side.

The recent string of Ukrainian withdrawals—which Moscow calls “retreats”—comes 10 days after Russian forces decisively captured the town of Avdiivka.

The fall of Avdiivka has brought Moscow one step closer to asserting control over the eastern Donbas region, comprising Donetsk—where Avdiivka is located—and neighboring Luhansk.

Control of the Russian-speaking Donbas has remained one of Moscow’s key objectives since it began its invasion of Ukraine just more than two years ago.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the town’s capture brought an additional 20 square miles of territory in Donetsk under Russian control.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, to follow up with further offensive actions.

“This victory should be built upon,” Mr. Putin said in broadcast remarks.

On the same day, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, warned that Russian forces deployed along the eastern front “do not intend to pause or withdraw.”

With Avdiivka now under Russian control, Mr. Kuleba told CNN that Russian forces “will undoubtedly choose another city and begin storming it.”

M1A1 Abrams tanks. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Guevara/Released)
M1A1 Abrams tanks. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Guevara/Released)

1st Abrams Destroyed, Moscow Claims

Amid the ongoing fighting in Donetsk, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Feb. 27 that its forces had—for the first time—destroyed a U.S.-built Abrams tank on Avdiivka’s outskirts.

The United States began delivering Abrams tanks to Ukraine’s military late last year.

The Russian claim was accompanied by video footage, widely shared on social media, which appeared to show the tank in flames after having been struck by a combat drone.

The Russian claims—and the authenticity of the footage—have yet to be independently verified.

“From the outset, our soldiers have said these [Abrams] tanks would burn like the others,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about the alleged incident.

Mr. Peskov was referring to hundreds of combat tanks given to Kyiv last year by its Western allies, many of which have since been destroyed on the battlefield.

It remains unclear how many Western-supplied tanks have thus far been knocked out of commission by Russian forces deployed in Ukraine.

However, according to recent reports in the German media, more than 20 German-built Leopard tanks were destroyed last year alone during Ukraine’s unsuccessful counteroffensive.

U.S. officials have yet to issue a statement regarding the tank’s alleged destruction.

The Pentagon and the State Department didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment regarding the Russian claims.

On Feb. 28, Igor Kimakovsky, an adviser for the Moscow-recognized Donetsk People’s Republic, said five more Abrams tanks had been spotted near the front line.

“Reconnaissance carried out near the line of engagement has shown at least five Abrams tanks outside Avdiivka,” Mr. Kimakovsky told Russia’s TASS news agency.

The Epoch Times couldn’t independently verify those claims.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 with the stated aim of protecting Russian speakers in Donbas and preempting NATO’s further eastward expansion.

Seven months later, Moscow annexed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions after holding controversial referendums.

Since then, it has regarded all four regions as Russian Federation territory.

Ukraine and its allies reject the moves as illegitimate land grabs, while Kyiv has vowed to continue fighting until Russian forces are driven from all four regions.

Reuters contributed to this report.