Wednesday Briefing

Ukrainian soldiers near Avdiivka last week.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Ukrainian troops feared missing after retreat

Hundreds of Ukrainian troops may have been captured by Russian forces during Ukraine’s chaotic retreat from the eastern city of Avdiivka, according to senior Western officials and soldiers fighting for Ukraine.

Estimates varied for how many Ukrainians were missing or captured, but two soldiers with knowledge of the retreat estimated that 850 to 1,000 soldiers were gone. (Ukrainian military commanders have attempted to downplay the numbers, and a precise count may not be possible until Ukraine solidifies new defensive lines.)

American officials said losing Avdiivka was not a significant strategic setback. But the capture of hundreds of soldiers, and the intense blow to morale that would cause at a time when Ukraine is running low on fighters, could change that calculus.

The Ukrainian military wants to mobilize an additional 500,000 soldiers, but the request has faced political resistance and is stalled in Parliament. Losing hundreds of soldiers, especially battlefield veterans, would sharpen the need and could complicate recruiting efforts.

What happened: The withdrawal was ill-planned and began too late, Western officials and Ukrainian soldiers said on the condition of anonymity. Russian forces had largely encircled Ukrainian positions on three sides, and they advanced faster than expected.

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