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Russia's military forces Ukrainian troops out of a strategically important town


It's been nearly two years since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And this weekend Russia secured an important win. Its forces occupied a strategically important town in Ukraine's east.


Now, Ukrainian soldiers spent months defending it, but they're running low on ammunition and weapons. The White House blames Congress for holding up military aid, and Ukrainians fear more losses without more support.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now to discuss all this is NPR's Joanna Kakissis, who is in central Ukraine. Joanna, first tell us about this town and why its occupation by Russia is significant.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: So, A, the town's name is Avdiivka, and in Ukraine, it's been a symbol of resistance. Russia has been attacking Avdiivka for 10 years, ever since Russian proxies occupied part of eastern Ukraine back in 2014. The Russians really stepped up their attacks on Avdiivka last October, destroying nearly the entire town and driving out nearly all of the 30,000 residents. Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his soldiers on the Kremlin website. And now Putin can tout this battlefield gain ahead of next month's presidential elections. Ukrainians, of course, are heartbroken. They're on edge. The capture of Avdiivka sets up Russia for more gains in eastern Ukraine.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And the White House noted that Ukraine's lack of ammunition played a role in Russia's takeover of Avdiivka. Is that what Ukrainians are saying, too?

KAKISSIS: Yes. Many are saying that. A Ukrainian lawmaker told me Ukraine is being held hostage by election year politics in the U.S. She's referring to how Republicans in Congress have been blocking a military aid package to Ukraine. And at the Munich Security Conference this weekend, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, look, we do not have enough weapons, and we will lose if we can't get more soon. Meanwhile, Russia already had a much bigger arsenal than Ukraine, and now it's getting even more weapons from Iran and North Korea. The Ukrainian soldiers defending Avdiivka also said that they were outgunned by the Russians, and on land that's flat with no cover for them. The 110th Mechanized Brigade defended Avdiivka for two years, and they shared some videos with NPR of soldiers talking about the withdrawal. Here's a soldier identified by his military call sign Munch. He's heard here through an interpreter.


MUNCH: (Through interpreter) The exit from Avdiivka was difficult, to put it mildly. Everyone knows the Russians have no problems with the supply of ammunition, no problems with firepower. So they shoot everything at us. Everything possible was flying there.

KAKISSIS: Munch also mentioned how over months of intense fighting, the Russians would just send wave after wave of soldiers. No matter how many Russian soldiers were killed, there were always more coming. Ukrainian soldiers were about to be encircled in Avdiivka, so military chief Oleksandr Syrsky decided that the human cost of keeping them there was just too high.

MARTÍNEZ: So does the fall of this city signal that maybe Russia's gaining momentum in this war?

KAKISSIS: Well, in the short term, I think the answer is yes. In Munich, Zelenskyy said Ukraine is trying to build its own arsenal, but also said Ukraine cannot defend itself from Russia alone. Here he is.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Please do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself why is Putin still able to continue it?

KAKISSIS: Zelenskyy is once again asking the West to not see this as only Ukraine's war, but one that will grow much larger if Russia keeps winning.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Dnipro, Ukraine. Joanna, thank you.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.