Ukrainian forces withdrawing from Avdiivka

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After grueling months of fighting Russian forces, Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the battered town of Avdiivka, the armed forces commander said Saturday.

The retreat expands Moscow’s control of Ukraine’s east and delivers a symbolic victory for President Vladimir Putin as he is about to be re-elected.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said he ordered the withdrawal “to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen.”

“I decided to withdraw our units from the city and move to defense on more favorable lines,” Syrskyi said in a statement on Facebook Saturday local time.