Ukraine withdraws from villages on the Eastern Front as it awaits U.S. aid

Russian troops captured or entered half a dozen villages on Ukraine's eastern front last week, highlighting the deteriorating situation in the region for outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian forces as they long await American military aid necessary.

“The situation at the front has worsened,” General Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine's commander-in-chief, said in a statement on Sunday in which he announced that his troops had withdrawn from two villages west of Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold in the the east occupied by Russia. earlier this year, and another village further south.

Military experts say Moscow's recent advances reflect its desire to exploit a window of opportunity to carry out attacks before the first batch of a new American military aid package arrives in Ukraine to help reverse its troops.

Congress recently approved $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, and President Biden signed it into law last week, promising to speed up shipments of weapons.

“In an effort to seize the strategic initiative and break through the front line, the enemy concentrated its main efforts in several areas, creating a significant advantage in forces and means,” General Syrsky said on Sunday.

Here's a look at the current situation.

General Syrsky said the “most difficult situation” at the moment was in the villages west of Avdiivka, which Russia captured in February after months of fierce battles. He said Russia has deployed up to four brigades in the area with the aim of advancing towards Ukrainian military logistics centers, such as the eastern city of Pokrovsk.

After Russia captured Avdiivka, Ukrainian forces retreated to a new defensive line about three miles to the west, along a series of small villages, but that line has now been overrun by Russian forces. General Syrsky said Sunday that his troops had withdrawn from Berdychi and Semenivka, the last two villages in the area that were not yet under full Russian control.

Serhii Kuzan, president of the Ukrainian Center for Security and Cooperation, a non-governmental research group, said the Ukrainian command had to make “a choice between a bad situation and an even worse one” and decided to lose territory rather than soldiers.

To further complicate the situation, Russian forces managed to break through the northern part of this defensive line by exploiting a gap in the Ukrainian positions and rapidly advancing into the village of Ocheretyne. That village is on a road leading to Pokrovsk, about 18 miles to the west. It is unclear whether Russian forces have gained full control.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Sunday that Russia's gains at Ocheretyne presented the Russian command with a choice: continue to push west toward Pokrovsk, or push north towards Chasiv Yar, a city that has suffered relentless Russian attacks in recent weeks.

According to Ukrainian officials, around 25,000 Russian soldiers are involved in the offensive on Khasiv Yar. Chasiv Yar, about seven miles west of Bakhmut, sits on strategic high ground.

Its capture would put the town of Kostiantynivka, about 10 miles to the southwest, in Moscow's direct line of fire. The city is the main supply point for Ukrainian forces along much of the Eastern Front.

A northward push from Ocheretyne could also allow Russian forces to attack Kostiantynivka from the south, in a pincer movement.

“Russian forces currently have the opportunity to gain significant operational advantages near Chasiv Yar,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its report on Sunday.

Kuzan, the military expert, said Russian advances “will continue to occur for the foreseeable future, depending on how quickly and how much Western aid arrives.”

Last week the United States said it would send the first $1 billion of its new military aid package to Ukraine. That batch will include shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles and other air defense munitions, Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and 155-millimeter projectiles.

Ukraine is particularly desperate for artillery shells, which are essential for hitting the enemy and limiting their movements. Speaking to Western allies last week, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia currently fires 10 projectiles for every projectile fired by Ukraine.

But it remains uncertain whether these supplies will reach the battlefield fast enough to halt the Russian advance.

Military experts have said that Russia is preparing to launch a new large-scale offensive in late May or early June and will continue with attacks in the coming weeks. Volodymyr Bitsak, a Ukrainian commander, said on national television Monday that Russia has deployed four battalions near the border with Ukraine's northeastern Sumy region.

“We are still waiting for the supplies promised to Ukraine,” Zelensky said in his late-night speech on Sunday. He added that he had just spoken with Hakeem Jeffries, a Democratic minority leader in the US House of Representatives, regarding the delivery of the US military aid package.

“We expect exactly the volume and content of supplies capable of changing the situation on the battlefield,” Zelensky said.

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