Avdiivka Stalemate

The Hotspot in the ongoing fight in Ukraine’s East

Fighters dash across Yasinovatskiy Pereyulok, the road that runs straight through the no-man’s-land between the Ukrainian Army and the pro-Russian separatists. (Source: News Front https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0ZbzGqcH08)

Although the Minsk II agreement renewed the ceasefire protocols between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military in February 2015, both sides have violated its conditions by failing to withdraw weapons and continuing to fight along the contact line.

An industrial zone north of Donetsk has become the site of the most intense fighting in the war so far.

A majority of combat takes place in strategic points around Donetsk, the largest separatist-controlled city and its headquarters.


An industrial zone north of Donetsk has become the site of the most intense fighting in the war so far. Located between Ukrainian-held Avdiivka and separatist Yasinuvata, the ‘promzone’ is a strategic point that provides control over highway M04 stretching north out of Donetsk, which is the most direct transport route between the separatist HQ and Horlivka, another large frontline city. The industrial zone is also just south of a Donetsk water treatment plant and west of the Avdiivka coke gas plant, which is important to Ukraine’s steel industry. Despite the conflict, the facilities have continued to operate.

Separatist forces have fortified a traffic outpost on highway M04 overlooking the promzone. (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yeqKnlj9Y4)

At the beginning of the Minsk II agreement, the ‘promzone’ was a contested no-man’s-land. In mid-March 2016, Ukrainian soldiers took direct control of the zone, entrenching themselves among the industrial buildings and surrounding neighborhood. Separatists responded by establishing a front along the highway, setting up fortifications at a traffic outpost, beneath underpasses and in trenches.

A house struck by a stray artillery shell in Avdiivka, shared on Twitter. (Source: @tombreadly on Twitter https://twitter.com/tombreadley/status/707835770653044736)

Since then, the contact line has barely shifted although forces have been strengthened on both sides. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission recorded intense fighting in complete disregard of the Minsk II cease-fire. The opponents engage each other with small arms and artillery fire, and tragically many stray strikes often land in populated neighborhoods, killing civilians and damaging homes and infrastructure.

A Ukrainian soldier examines an unexploded mortar shell in the promzone. (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owc2yRkQ0nA)

The constant combat in the area produces an abundance of media that can give outsiders a glimpse of the conflict, including photos and videos taken by reporters, civilians, and the soldiers themselves. These digital breadcrumbs allow us to see the conflict in a new light, enriching traditional coverage of the crisis in transformative ways.

BBC and Vice as well as other local and independent news services have sent reporters into the dangerous zone to reveal the conflict firsthand. Google Maps imagery from the region reveal that crater impacts are easily visible on both sides of the front line, and damages to civilian areas are often posted on social media leaving the evidence of the Minsk 2 violations in plain sight for the world to see.

The fight over Avdiivka does not look like it will end soon. Neither side has the resources to launch an offensive on the other’s well fortified positions, although even if they did, bringing in any weapons heavier than small arms are already prohibited by Minsk II. However, many in the conflict regard the agreement as having already failed and see no end to the battle in the foreseeable future.

To learn more about how you can track Minsk II violations in Ukraine through web research, follow the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab.