Op- Ed by Bryce Wilson, @BryceWilsonAU
Recent provocations by Russia and its militant proxies in Avdiivka's Industrial Zone have given cause for prominent voices to suggest an overall escalation is imminent. Only days ago US President Donald Trump spoke over the phone with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and shortly thereafter conflict broke out across Donetsk Oblast.
In the last few days the sounds of intense shelling and chaotic fighting have regularly sounded out across Ukraine's wartorn east, but the rise may be more indicative of Russia's military doctrine and strategy in the ongoing invasion of Donbass, and not a full scale escalation in a slow-burning war that has now been raging for nearly three years, claiming over 10,000 lives in the process.
Ukraine's Armed Forces and soldiers from the so-called Donetsk People's Republic suffered significant losses after the Russian-assisted Separatists launched an intense multi-day siege of the Industrial Zone and nearby surrounds, including Butovka Mine, beginning on the morning of January 29th.
Following barrages of heavy artillery directed at the Industrial Zone a kilometre from the centre of Avdiivka, DPR forces attempted to seize key defensive positions currently controlled by Government forces. According to Ukrainian military officials in the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) HQ, two groups of around 25-30 DPR military personnel unsuccessfully attempted to storm Ukrainian lines.
After repelling the opening assault, soldiers of Ukraine's 72nd Brigade were reported to have counter-attacked and captured key strategic positions, allowing them to better defend the area. The initial skirmish and subsequent ongoing fighting in the area has resulted in heavy casualties for both sides, while both accuse the other of initiating the fighting.
Ukraine's government have not specified exact military casualties in Avdiivka, but the OSCE reports that eight soldiers have been killed, and 26 wounded. Unverified reports on the Internet suggest that between 10 to 13 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed, and 45 to 55 wounded. DPR forces also suffered heavy losses, including 'Grek', a DPR battalion commander who died leading the failed attack.
Since the offensive began, dozens of MLRS 'Grad' rockets and artillery shells have been launched from Donetsk city towards Avdiivka and nearby areas, despite being banned by the failed Minsk agreements. The indiscriminate barrages of Russian-supplied artillery and rockets have caused mass damage to crucial social infrastructure and homes, as well as killed civilians.
Fragile power lines and gas pipe infrastructure have been destroyed as a result of the ongoing attacks and following sporadic clashes - which have continued over four days - leaving thousands of Avdiivka's civilian population without access to electricity or heat, in a bitter winter where temperatures have plummeted below -20 Celsius.
The heightened situation has caused Government authorities to declare a state of emergency, and nearly 200 buses remain on standby to carry out a mass evacuation for around 17,000 people remaining in Avdiivka. Humanitarian shelters have been set up in the wake of the attacks, providing crucial heating stations and food for residents, which includes over 2,000 children.
Similar tactics were recently employed by another one of the eastern Ukrainian breakaway republics. In December, 2016, fighting erupted in the area of Svitlodarsk, on the outskirts of Debaltseve. Beginning in the early morning of the 18th, forces from the Luhansk People's Republic launched a multi-hour artillery barrage using over 600 122mm rounds, as well as RPGs and small-arms.
The opening LPR attack killed five Ukrainian soldiers of the 54th Brigade defending positions at Svitlodarsk, and wounded six. Ukraine's Defense Ministry claimed that their forces killed 18 of the LPR attackers, and wounded 38 more, in a series of battles that took place in the week after the initial assault. In total, Ukraine was reported to have suffered 50 military casualties in the days that followed after fighting began.
Beginning in October, 2016, DPR forces have maintained heavy pressure on Ukraine's positions. Throughout late October the town of Shyrokyne, close to Mariupol, was targeted daily by regular barrages with heavy artillery and rockets. Schools and homes in Mariinka were damaged by repeated shelling in November and December. The last quarter of 2016 saw 42 Ukrainian soldiers killed, and 280 wounded.
Expressions of 'concern' have began to trickle in from the global political community as news slowly comes out from Avdiivka, but it is not enough. The cyclical nature of this war of attrition has shown that when the cameras of the world turn away, and foreign correspondents return to comfortable apartments in Kyiv, the daily warfare continues to kill and destroy.
Fighting in 2016 killed 217 Ukrainian soldiers, and wounded 1,282 more. Not just numbers, but humans with stories, families, and lives extinguished. How much bloodshed will 2017 require before people realise this is the war? The conflict does not need to return to 2014 levels, the crisis is happening now. Action is more important than the repetitious, empty political rhetoric of months gone by, and it is only action that will deter Russia's bullying of Ukraine.
With Putin-loving US President Donald Trump at the helm of America, it is more important now than ever before that the world supports Ukraine and its Kyiv leadership in their stand against Russia and its forces - regular and proxy - in Ukraine's east.
Despite the fact that this new offensive is a flagrant violation of political agreements and further insult to Ukraine's territorial integrity, it does not symbol or suggest a forthcoming invasion or ongoing escalation. Instead, this is just another horrific part of Russia's support for and role in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and a further attempt to weaken the defiant and resilient nation.
Bryce Wilson is a photographer, filmmaker, and freelance photojournalist from Melbourne, Australia.