Russia pounds eastern Ukraine as Kyiv says spy chief’s wife poisoned

Deadly storms hit southern Ukraine and Russia and hamper military operations

Russian forces launched multiple attacks on the industrial town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, as the warring neighbours counted the cost of deadly storms in southern areas and Kyiv said the wife of its military intelligence chief was being treated for poisoning.

Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said that around Avdiivka “the battle barely abates. The enemy is using few armoured vehicles because our forces have destroyed a great many of them. But it is continuing to send forward its infantry”.

Russia has stepped up efforts in recent months to seize Avdiivka, which sits on the edge of the occupied city of Donetsk in the region of the same name, much of which has been de facto controlled by Moscow since it fomented fighting in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

“Things in the Avdiivka sector have become even tougher. The intensity of clashes has been increasing,” said Vitaliy Barabash, the head of Avdiivka’s administration.


“The Russians have opened up two more sectors from which they have begun making assaults – from the direction of Donetsk … and in the so-called industrial zone. The enemy is attempting to storm the city from all directions.”

Mr Barabash said “very intense battles” were taking place near a vast Soviet-era coking plant that was long the basis of Avdiivka’s economy.

“The enemy is not in there, but unfortunately in the industrial zone very fierce battles are continuing. On the flanks to the south and north [the Russians] do not have any success, all attacks are being repelled and the defensive line is holding. In the [nearby village] of Stepove the enemy has been taking heavy losses in recent days,” he added. “We are fighting and will continue to fight despite the weather.”

Russia has also focused recent attacks on Ukrainian positions around Bakhmut, a ruined city north of Avdiivka which Moscow’s army seized in spring, and on the town of Kupiansk in the northeastern Kharkiv region, which Ukraine liberated a year ago.

Military operations have been complicated by huge winter storms that hit southern and eastern parts of Ukraine and Russia in recent days.

At least 10 people died and 23 needed medical help in Ukraine after storms blocked major roads and caused power cuts affecting thousands of people.

In southern Russia and occupied Crimea, at least four people were killed and about two million faced blackouts as snow, heavy rain and winds gusting up to almost 150km/h battered ports and played havoc with shipping in the Black Sea.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence service, said on Tuesday that Marianna Budanova, the wife of agency chief Kyrylo Budanov, had been poisoned. He added that several GUR employees also showed mild symptoms of poisoning.

“Marianna Budanova is being treated in Ukraine. Now there is no threat to her life, but medical observation is required. One of the theories is that [she] may have been poisoned via food,” a GUR source told Ukraine’s NV news outlet.

Mr Budanov is one of the most prominent senior figures in Ukraine’s security services and has overseen several successful major operations against Russian forces, making him and his relatives likely targets for Kremlin assassins.

In Moscow, a court extended until January 30th the detention of US citizen Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter awaiting trial on spying charges that he denies.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe