Eastern Ukraine has been relatively calm for a warzone as of recent, but over the past week violence has sparked up again. On February 2, Russian separatists went on the offensive against Ukrainian government forces on the Ukrainian frontline in a town North of Donetsk called Avdiivka, leaving most of the town destitute. Avdiivka has an estimated population of 22,000 leaving the vast majority of the town without electricity, heat, and water with temperatures hovering around -22°C.
The Ukrainian government has declared a state of emergency due to the dire situation resulting in the regional government of Avdiivka to set up humanitarian outposts to offer residents tea, soup, and bread. The shelling in Avdiivka has destroyed up to 20 homes leaving many people with nowhere to go. Some residents have jokingly stated that when the shelling started all you can do was “pray, drink vodka, and swear.” The Ukrainian government has started evacuating the most vulnerable in the city including 145 residents, 88 of which are children.
As Russian separatists have stepped up attacks, Ukraine has bolstered its defences by increasing its number of soldiers, large-calibre artillery, and battle tanks. Kyev Commander Yevhen Deydey has described the battlefield manoeuvring “our tanks are preparing for battle. This is real escalation.” Social media was filled with messages of support towards Ukrainian troops, videos to show the need for humanitarian assistance, as well as videos of Russian separatist shelling and attacks. Ukrainian soldiers were also receiving antagonizing text messages from Russian separatists saying “you are just meat to your commanders.”
This spark of violence is believed to be in retaliation to Ukrainian forces creeping forward into the “grey zone” in recent months, seizing positions in several small towns. Ukraine believes that Russian separatist violence is a warning to its American and Western allies’ sanctions. Many believe that the recent violence in Avdiivka was a way for Putin to push President Trump’s buttons and see what he will be able to get away with until he gets sanctions lifted by Western countries. President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine has been very outspoken about not lifting sanctions while Ukraine is at war. In Poroshenko’s most recent state visit to Germany, he stated that he would call for a national referendum on joining NATO.
Poroshenko said to a German newspaper “Europe should realize that it would be more secure, reliable, and happier with Ukraine.” If Ukraine were to make moves to join NATO, it would be highly unfavourable among the Russians. According to Russia, NATO and the West have already broken many promises from the 1990s on expanding the military alliance and infiltrating into Russia’s sphere of influence when many Eastern European countries joined NATO in the 1990s and 2000s. If Ukraine were to join NATO this would be a big red line crossed for Russia. Considering how volatile and unpredictable Russia has been in recent years, who knows how Putin will respond next.