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Ukrainian forces withdraw from key Donbass city – commander-in-chief

Ukrainian troops have been ordered to leave the city of Avdeevka, Kiev’s newly-appointed commander-in-chief has said, claiming the decision was intended to preserve the “lives and health” of soldiers following months of desperate attempts to hold onto the frontline town near Russia’s Donetsk.

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General Aleksandr Syrsky announced the pull-out in a statement shared to social media in the early hours of Saturday morning, arguing that the withdrawal was part of “measures to stabilize the situation and maintain our positions.”

“Based on the operational situation around Avdiivka, in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen, I decided to withdraw our units from the city and move to defense on more favorable lines,” he said.

READ MORE: Ukraine facing ‘many other’ defeats – Pentagon

The order follows reports that Ukrainian troops in the area were almost fully surrounded and faced near-constant attacks in recent days, with one local commander saying fighting in the area was “several times more hellish than the hottest battles of this phase of the war.” He was referring to the earlier struggle over the city of Artyomovsk (also known as Bakhmut in Ukraine), which fell to Russian troops last year following a lengthy siege.

The decision to leave Avdeevka came less than 24 hours after the head of Ukrainian forces in the southern part of Russia’s Donetsk and Zaporozhye regions, Aleksandr Tarnavsky, claimed that the situation in the city was “difficult but under control” on Friday.

READ MORE: Ukraine at risk of ‘cascading frontline collapse’ – NYT

Tarnavsky confirmed the withdrawal on Saturday morning, calling it “the only correct solution” while claiming that all troops had pulled back to “pre-prepared positions,” where they would dig in for defensive operations.

Earlier this week, the deputy head of the 3rd Assault Brigade – a Western-armed formation consisting of many fighters from the neo-Nazi ‘Azov’ regiment – said parts of his unit sent into Avdeevka as reinforcements had been encircled, describing the situation as “critical.” The Washington Post reported around the same time that Kiev’s forces had already been forced to pull back from the city, citing Ukrainian military sources. The paper added that a total collapse of Ukrainian positions around Avdeevka was “just a matter of time.”

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