Documenting Losses in the 2022-2024 Avdiivka Offensive

In the middle of February 2024, Ukrainian armed forces started pulling out of the besieged and nearly encircled city of Avdiivka. The battle for Avdiivka has now been raging for almost 2 years since the start of the full-scale invasion, and Avdiivka has been on the contact line between Russian occupied territory since 2014.

Avdiivka is a small industrial city located in Donetsk oblast in Ukraine. Avdiivka is adjacent to Donetsk city, and in a sense is an exurb of the city itself. Since Russia’s unofficial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Avdiivka has been one of the key cities stopping the tide of Russian forces, soon becoming one of Ukraine’s most fortified front line positions, and a symbol of resistance against Russian imperial expansionism. By 2022, Avdiivka was fully transformed into a fortress city, with deep fortifications consisting of old Soviet military infrastructure as well as newly constructed positions and fortifications – often merging into the old Soviet-built networks. The 2014 to 2022 front line barely moved throughout those years, with its main stretch encompassing a large highway on the outer ring of Donetsk city. Several bridges and overpasses controlled by Russia serve as fortified strongpoints. The fighting along those lines hasn’t ceased since 2014, and following the full scale invasion in 2022, has held out effectively against Russia’s attacks with massed armor and infantry. 

The city features several prominent sites important to the battle, including infrastructural and fortified defensive positions utilized by Ukrainian forces.

The Avdiivka Coke Plant is the main fortification in the city. It’s a Soviet-built factory that has a large underground bunker capable of withstanding a nuclear blast. The factory itself is also very massive, with large structures serving as a form of fortification and cover. An extensive network of trenches and fortifications was dug around and inside the plant grounds. The Avdiivka Coke Plant was the last fortification held by Ukrainian forces before they had to pull out of the city.

The 9th Kvartal High-Rise Area is a civilian area consisting of a set of apartment blocks previously occupied by residents. It was slowly fortified from 2022 onwards, and served as one of the last areas where Ukrainian soldiers held out against Russian attacks. 

The Zenith Air Defense Bunker is a fortification of legendary status in Ukraine. This bunker has held out against countless Russian attacks since 2022. The area south of the bunker is a newly constructed and fortified trench system with firing positions, and the fields towards occupied Donetsk are among the most heavily mined areas today. The Zenith bunker complex itself is not very large, but it was one of the harder places hit during the attack on Avdiivka, with the small contingent of Ukrainian soldiers holding the position being almost fully encircled, resulting in an unverified number of deaths of retreating soldiers. Russian forces also vowed not to take prisoners during their attack on the position, and several public videos posted by Russian propagandists point towards field executions of Ukrainian soldiers at the Zenith base. 

The Slag Heap is a man-made spoil from local mining operations which serves as an elevated position in the otherwise flat terrain area surrounding Avdiivka, allowing for more fire control over the encompassing envelope around the position. The slag heap was one of the first positions Russia captured during the first months of its last assault on Avdiivka.  

The Water Filtration Plant was previously a civilian facility before 2014. After the bombing and destruction of most filtration infastructure at the plant, the facility was fortified and became a strong point used by Ukrainian soldiers to fight off oncoming Russian assaults. 

Donetsk International Airport is one of the most well-known and devastated places in Ukraine, and was the location of several major long-running battles. Although parts of the runway were still held by Ukraine in 2022, by 2023, Russia’s full scale forces were able to fully occupy the territory of the airport and its environs.

Numerous additional defensive positions exist across Donetsk, including smaller locations such as the “Ant-Hill,” the “Hotel,” and the “Restaurant,” which have become landmarks across the duration of the intense battle.

The final assault on Avdiivka started around early October 2023, after Russia accumulated large numbers of vehicles and infantry. The attack came from several directions at the same time, hitting the south, north, east and southwest of the city. After an initial underperformance during the first phase of the invasion, the Russian Air Force was able to make a major comeback with the use of newly mass-produced glide bomb kits, which utilize an integrated set of deployable wings with a guidance device for conversion of older unguided bombs, significantly increasing their range.

The main advantage of these kits is the ability to launch them at distances beyond any Ukrainian air defense. This technology is also available for the Ukrainian Air Force using an analogue NATO technology known as JDAM, but Ukraine cannot utilize them at the scale and volume Russia’s Air Force can. Russia’s glide bombs are very crude in construction and have been known to malfunction, yet the ability to launch these weapons at long range without endangering the launch aircraft have allowed Russia to use them in large numbers. By mid 2023 the Russian Air Force had conducted hundreds of sorties a day to hit Ukraine with glide bombs.

Russian FAB-500 bomb fitted with a guidance/glide kit

Russia has used very large bombs for this bombardment, including 500kg, 1,000 kg, and 1,500 kg FAB500, FAB1000, and FAB1500 bombs, in addition to relentless ground assault with armor, artillery, and fighting vehicles. While aerial attacks saw some success, much of the ground offensive was halted by the Ukrainian counteroffensive, utilizing tactics such as small swarms of privately funded commercially available drones, resulting in heavy losses suffered by Russian armor.

The infographics below visualize the estimates calculated by “Naalsio” on Twitter. These losses are open-source images available to the public which have been geolocated to within the Avdiivka area, and take into account losses from October 2023 onwards.

These results are even more stark when laid in comparison to Ukrainian losses in the same region; compiled using the same methodology, this shows that Russian forces have taken staggering losses at very uneven ratios. 

To further put Russian losses into perspective, we will take a look at open source data from the WarSpotting project. These recorded losses were suffered by Russia during its storming of the Avdiivka area from the start of the full-scale invasion between February 2022 and October 2023.

If we combine losses from the start of the full-scale invasion with the last battle for Avdiivka, the total number is significant: utilizing both the Naalsio and WarSpotting datasets, Russia has lost a minimum of 1,137 military vehicles, including 372 tanks (you can get a closer look at some of the models and variants lost by Russia in our Guide to Soviet Tank Spotting). According to some estimates, Russian losses could well be into the 1,500 vehicle range. 

The loss of Avdiivka is a heavy blow for Ukraine. Its significance was more than just symbolic: Avdiivka was not only adjacent to Donetsk city, it was a bridgehead into the Russian-occupied conglomerate of territory around Donetsk. The loss of the city was also furthered due to partner forces, including the United States, halting or otherwise slow-rolling essential military aid to Ukraine. The final battle for Avdviika was fought with severe ammo shortage, especially for artillery.

The cost of taking Avdiivka still remains astronomical for Russia, and questions remain as to whether seizing the city was worth it for something beyond a victory clip for Putin’s increasingly authoritarian government.