Wednesday Briefing: Hundreds of Ukrainian Soldiers Are Missing

The fall of Avdiivka may be more important than it initially seemed.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Ukrainian soldiers are missing after Avdiivka’s fall

Hundreds of Ukrainian troops may have been captured by Russia, or disappeared, during Ukraine’s chaotic retreat from the eastern city of Avdiivka. The loss could deal a blow to Ukraine’s already weakening morale.

Russia’s capture of the small city was seen as a symbolic loss for Ukraine: Avdiivka had become an emotional center of the fight. But the U.S. had said that it was not a significant strategic setback.

The capture of hundreds of soldiers could change that. Two soldiers with knowledge of the retreat estimated that 850 to 1,000 soldiers appear to have been captured or are unaccounted for, a range that Western officials said seemed accurate. Unverified videos posted to social media also showed Russian forces executing Ukrainian troops in and around the city.

Ukraine already needed more troops, and it cannot afford to lose experienced fighters. The country also wants to mobilize 500,000 more people, an effort that was already meeting political resistance and is stalled in Parliament. The capture of hundreds of soldiers could complicate recruitment efforts, and military officials have tried to downplay both the number and significance of the missing soldiers.

Analysis: Some Ukrainian soldiers and Western officials said the withdrawal was ill-planned and began too late. Those failures were directly responsible for missing soldiers, they say.

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