NYT criticises weak defensive positions of Ukrainian troops near Avdiivka

Saturday, 2 March 2024, 21:12

The New York Times has reported on "poor Ukrainian defenses" west of Avdiivka.

Source: NYT, referring to satellite images, US officials and military experts

Details: In an article headlined Surprisingly Weak Ukrainian Defenses Help Russian Advance, the newspaper notes that the rapid advance of Russian troops near Avdiivka is partly due to a lack of ammunition for Ukraine's Defence Forces due to the decrease in Western aid, but another reason is the weakness of Ukrainian defences.

Based on satellite imagery from Planet Labs, the newspaper reports that "Sparse, rudimentary trench lines populate the area west of Avdiivka that Ukraine is trying to defend" that "lack many of the additional fortifications that could help slow Russian tanks and help defend major roads and important terrain."

Quote: "US officials said privately 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."

More details: The newspaper notes that the Ukrainian command has had enough time to prepare defences in this area.

"But the Ukrainian defences outside Avdiivka show rudimentary earthen fortifications, often with a connecting trench for infantry troops to reach firing positions closest to the enemy, but little else," the newspaper says.

Instead, the report notes that Russian fortifications near Verbove, a village in Ukraine's south, which Ukraine tried to regain this autumn, "show a much different picture".

"Unlike the poorly fortified villages that Russian forces are trying to capture outside Avdiivka, Verbove has a concentric ring of fortifications. It starts with a trench wide enough to ensnare advancing tanks and armoured vehicles, followed by a mesh of cement obstacles known as dragon’s teeth — also used to stop vehicles — and, finally, a sprawling trench for the infantry. Satellite imagery from February shows the multilayered Russian defences to the west of Verbove, with thousands of shell craters visible in the surrounding fields," the NYT writes.

According to the NYT, there are many possible reasons for the apparent lack of defence in Ukraine.

"Ukrainian officials may have been too focused on offensive operations last year to dedicate the necessary resources to building the kind of multiple trenches and tank traps that Russian engineers built since late 2022 in the country’s south, the US officials and military experts said," the newspaper says.

According to US officials, a psychological element might have influenced the situation as well. If Ukrainian troops intensively mine certain areas to impede the advance of Russian troops, it will be a tacit admission that they are unlikely to conduct offensive operations in the same area in the future, the newspaper reports.

The NYT adds that while Moscow began building defensive lines in the south more than six months before Kyiv's counteroffensive, Ukraine appears to have started planning new fortifications only three months ago.

During a visit to the frontline in late November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that areas in eastern Donetsk Oblast, where Avdiivka is, "will receive maximum attention," noting the "need to boost and accelerate the construction of structures".

But Pasi Paroinen, an analyst at the Black Bird Group, which analyses satellite imagery and social media content from the battlefield, said "nothing significant has happened" since Zelenskyy's visit. According to the analyst, outside Avdiivka, "there are new positions being prepared, but they do not yet constitute a particularly formidable defensive line" and are not comparable in scale to Russian fortifications in Ukraine's south.

As the NYT notes, delays in the construction of fortifications mean that Ukrainian troops are likely having to reinforce their defences under Russian fire, making this task much more difficult.


  • On the night of 16-17 February, Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, announced the withdrawal of Ukrainian units from Avdiivka.
  • On 19 February, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Commander of the Tavria Operational and Strategic Group of Forces (OSGF), reported that Ukrainian troops have consolidated their positions on new defensive lines on the Avdiivka front in Donetsk Oblast.
  • On 24 February, DeepState reported that Russian troops had occupied the village of Lastochkyne.
  • On 25 February, Dmytro Lykhovii, spokesman for the Tavriia Operational Strategic Group, said that Ukraine's Armed Forces had withdrawn to the western outskirts of Lastochkyne, where they took up "prepared defensive positions", but on 26 February, he confirmed their withdrawal from Lastochkyne to mount a defence along the Orlivka-Tonenke-Berdychi line.
  • On 27 February DeepState analysts reported that Russian troops were advancing west and northwest of Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast, having captured the villages of Stepove and Sieverne after Lastochkyne. Tavriia Operative-Strategic Group confirms Ukrainian forces retreated from villages near Avdiivka.

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