Unexpectedly Weak Ukrainian Defenses Aid Russian Progress

Outside of the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, Russian forces are still making modest but quick gains. This is partly because Ukrainian ammunition is running low and Western assistance is waning. However, weak Ukrainian defenses are another factor contributing to the Kremlin’s forces’ advance in the region. The territory west of Avdiivka that Ukraine is attempting to defend is populated with sparse, crude trench lines, according to a Times analysis of imagery provided by private satellite company Planet Labs. Many of the extra defenses that could slow down Russian tanks and aid in defending vital highways and terrain are absent from these trench lines.


Over the course of the last nine months, Avdiivka was the scene of one of the bloodiest engagements of the war—a ferocious stalemate. The Ukrainian Army asserted that it had established defensive lines outside the city when Russia took control of it on February 17, marking its first significant victory since last May. However, in just one week, Russian forces have taken control of three settlements west of Avdiivka, and they are contesting at least one more.


Satellite imagery at the scale shown here is widely available. U.S. officials said on Wednesday that it was concerning that Ukraine did not shore up its defensive lines early or well enough, and that it may now face the consequences as Russian units advance slowly but steadily beyond Avdiivka. British military intelligence said on Thursday that Russian forces had advanced to about four miles from the center of Avdiivka in the past two weeks, a small but unusually rapid advance compared with previous offensive operations.

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