This is how Ukrainian children are evacuated in the middle of the war with Russia 0:55

(CNN) --

Avdiivka was on the front lines of the war between Kyiv and Moscow for almost a decade. Following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago, fierce fighting raged there for months.

The retreat was much less prolonged. When the Ukrainian Army left the city this Saturday, giving Russia its most important victory in months, it was swift and ruthless.

"Leave the 300 (wounded)," one soldier was allegedly ordered, "and burn everything."

Hours after Russian troops raised their flags over Avdiivka, a grisly story emerged of several wounded soldiers who failed to escape and were killed when Russian troops reached their position.

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The Ukrainian soldiers there were part of the 110th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which occupied a position known as Zenit. Last week, as Russian forces advanced on Avdiivka, Zenit came under intense attack.


Soldiers stationed there made desperate attempts to escape the ruins of the city, according to Viktor Biliak, one of the soldiers there. In a long and generally bleak Instagram post, Biliak described the dangerous route that awaited them.

"There was no visibility outside. It was just a matter of survival. A kilometer across the countryside. A group of blind kittens guided by a drone. Enemy artillery. The road to Avdiivka littered with Ukrainian corpses," he wrote.

Finally, a commander informed him by radio that the wounded would not be evacuated. Six men stayed behind. The messages they left were difficult to read, Biliak said.

"Their despair, their downfall. It will always remain with us. The bravest are those who die," he said.

The abandoned soldiers

Avdiivka has been on the front lines since pro-Moscow separatists seized large parts of the Donbas region, including the city of Donetsk, in 2014. Years of fighting turned the city into a heavily fortified bastion, with entrenchments that They were built in the last eight years.

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However, with the Ukrainian Army under pressure at several points along the front line and facing shortages of ammunition and personnel, the Russian military may have sensed an opportunity. They bombarded the area with air and artillery strikes before intensifying the ground assault.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces decided to abandon the city, giving Russia its most significant victory since it captured the city of Bakhmut last year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the decision to withdraw was made to "save the lives of our soldiers."

Among those trapped and surrounded was a 30-year-old junior sergeant and combat medic from the Dnipro region named Ivan Zhytnyk, who was identified as "Django." He had been fighting in Avdiivka for almost two years, as had the 110th Brigade.

He was seriously injured and could not move.

On Thursday, he was able to contact his sister Kateryna and other family members in an emotional video call, which has since received wide coverage in the Ukrainian media.

Kateryna asks her brother: "So what, they... no one is coming? Are your boys there too (with you) or are you alone?"

Zhytnyk responds: "Everyone left, everyone retreated. They told us that a car would pick us up. I have two broken legs, shrapnel in my back. I can't do anything..."

He said there were half a dozen soldiers at the Zenit position, four of whom, like Zhytnyk, could not walk.

  • Ukrainian forces withdraw from key town of Avdiivka after months of fighting

Kateryna replies, "I don't know how to...who to call," she says while crying. "I don't understand, who will pick you up?"

Nobody did it.

Ukrainian journalists contributing to later spoke with relatives of three of the Ukrainians who were injured in the position.

Kateryna told "They had been waiting for the (evacuation) vehicle for a day and a half. And when they realized that no one was coming to pick them up, they started calling everyone. When Ivan called me, he was very in pain, I "They had given everything they had left, but they were running out of medicine and food."

Later on Thursday, another family member contacted Zhytnyk via video conference, according to Kateryna.

"My brother said that the command agreed to let the Russians take them out because our men wouldn't get to them," Kateryna said. As they spoke, she said, the video showed Russian troops entering the position where the men were trapped.

CNN has not seen that video.

Another of the soldiers trapped in Zenit was Andrii Dubnytskyi. His wife Liudmyla told "We spoke at 10 in the morning (on Thursday). He was injured in the groin, he was staggering, he was trying to joke, he started crying. Then we texted each other..."

"The last message was at 12, that he would be captured," he said.

"Mom, I am a warrior"

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A Russian military blogger published a video this Friday in which the bodies of several of the soldiers appeared. In the video, the emblem of the 1st Slavic Brigade of the Russian Army appeared, which entered the Zenit area, south of Avdiivka, two days before, according to multiple testimonies.

The text of the video says that it was recorded on Friday in Avdiivka at the "premises of a military unit." He refers to the Ukrainian troops present there as Nazis and says "only death awaits them in our land."

Kateryna recognized her brother's body by his clothing and by the water bottle he was holding when the Russians took them out of the Zenit position.

Biliak, the soldier who posted his story on Instagram, recognized Andrii Dubnytskyi because he had a cross-shaped tattoo on his arm.

So did Dubnytskyi's wife, Liudmyla, who found the video late at night. "At ten thirty at night I found this video, I recognized him because of her tattoo," she said.

"He was called up on March 8, 2022, and since then he was in Avdiivka all the time... My daughter was 4 months old when he was mobilized," he told

The mother of another soldier made the same horrible discovery.

Heorhii Pavlov, who was identified as "Panda", had been a contract soldier since 2015 and had served in the Zenit post for the past year, according to his mother Inna.

"They waited for three days for an (evacuation) car," he said.

"On the 14th he was wounded, he had shrapnel wounds, his back... I begged him a lot, son, give up, I need you alive. He has a small child, 5 years old."

"He said: Mom, I'm a warrior," Inna told

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"I would like to believe that they are alive. The only thing I want now is to find my son," he said this Friday.

A few hours later he recognized his son's body in the same Russian video.

The 110th Brigade told CNN that it could not verify any details of the incident and was trying to verify what happened.

A well-known Ukrainian military blogger, Yurii Butusov, has since published the names of the six soldiers left behind at the Zenit position.

"These wounded were unable to move on their own, and there were no evacuation vehicles available to transport them. Due to the complete encirclement of Zenit, no vehicle could pass through to evacuate them," Butusov said.

It is not known how the soldiers died, but Butusov claimed that the Russian military "executed the helpless unarmed wounded, who were captured and could not move."

The Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine stated that an investigation was opened for "violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder" in the case of the wounded soldiers.

In a statement released Monday, the 110th Separate Mechanized Brigade said it attempted to negotiate with Russian forces to evacuate wounded servicemen from the Zenit position after it was completely surrounded.

"They [agreed] to evacuate our wounded and provide them with assistance, and later exchange them (for other prisoners of war). Our soldiers were ordered to save their lives," the statement read.

The brigade later learned, from video released by Russian forces, that its soldiers were killed.

"War is cruel and we are fighting for freedom at a high price," the statement concludes.

CNN has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on the allegations against Russian forces in Avdiivka.

Russian war in Ukraine