Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the key battleground town of Avdiivka in the country’s east, paving the way for a war. Russian advance As the war approaches its second anniversary.

The withdrawal, Kiev said, was announced as Ukraine faces a severe ammunition shortage and Congress delayed months of U.S. military aid, which was meant to allow troops to join Russian forces after months of fierce fighting. Avoid complete encirclement.

Most of the city’s pre-war population of 32,000 people has already left and the town is almost completely destroyed.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy looks over battlefield plans with military leaders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, second left, looks at a map during a visit to Ukraine’s 110th Mechanized Brigade in Avdiivka, the site of heavy fighting with Russian troops, in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Dec. 29, 2023. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

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Gen. Oleksandr Serskyi, who took over leadership of Ukraine’s army last week in a major reshuffle, announced the withdrawal as a strategy to save troops in a town that has been under intense attacks for months. .

“I decided to withdraw my units from the town and move to a more favorable line of defense to avoid encirclement and save the lives and health of the servicemen.”

“Our soldiers performed their military duty with dignity, made every effort to destroy the best military units of Russia, inflicted considerable damage on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment,” he said.

Russia stepped up its offensive on Avdiivka in October, and the Ukrainian position looked increasingly crowded for weeks.

The 3rd Assault Brigade, a prominent Ukrainian infantry assault unit, was flown into the town this week to help reinforce troops while other Ukrainian forces retreated southeast of the town. The unit described the fighting as “hell” and said on social media that Ukrainian defenders outnumbered Russian forces by a ratio of about 6 to 100 in some places.

A Ukrainian soldier sits at his position in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on August 18, 2023.  Officials say Ukraine's military is under pressure from a determined Russian effort to attack the strategically important eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka.

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the key battleground town of Avdiivka in the country’s east, paving the way for a Russian advance near the second anniversary of the war. (AP Photo/Labkos)

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The withdrawal is seen as a major victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the biggest since Russia captured the city of Bakhmut in May 2023.

The timing is critical as Russia looks to boost morale ahead of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and the second anniversary of Russia’s March presidential election. It also comes in the wake of reports that Putin critics and opposition leaders Alexey Navalny Died at the age of 47.

This comes days after National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the town was at risk of falling under Russian control.

“That’s why it’s happening. Ukrainian forces Artillery ammunition is running out on the ground,” Kirby said during a press briefing Thursday.

“Russia has been sending wave after wave of conscript forces to attack Ukrainian positions, and because Congress has not yet passed the supplemental bill, we have not been able to supply Ukraine with the artillery shells it needs. They are desperately needed to stop these Russian attacks.”

The U.S. is Ukraine’s biggest single donor, but about $60 billion for Kiev has been withheld because of political disagreements among U.S. lawmakers.

Earlier this month, all 27 EU countries agreed to one. A €50 billion ($54 billion) bailout package to Ukraine.

The withdrawal came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made another trip to Western Europe on Friday, hoping to pressure his country’s Western allies to provide military aid.

Oleksandr Sersky

General Oleksandr Serskyi, who took over leadership of Ukraine’s army in a major reshuffle last week, announced the withdrawal as a strategy to save the lives of troops in a town that has been under intense attacks for months. . (Yurimet/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Zelenskiy urged Western countries to help Ukraine defeat Putin, saying the war was a threat to the whole world.

Zelensky said that how long will the world allow Russia to be like this? This is the important question of today.

“Please, people of the world, don’t ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself – why Putin is still able to continue it. Let’s not fear the defeat of Putin and the collapse of his regime. Instead, work together to see what will be destroyed.” He stands for it. Losing is his destiny, not the demise of the rules-based world order.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Vladimir Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC). (Swenhope/Photo Alliance via Getty Images)

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