Ukraine launched one of the biggest drone attacks on the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula since the full-scale war that started with Russia’s invasion 21 months ago, Russian officials have said.

At the same time, Ukrainian officials reported that the Kremlin’s forces escalated their weeks-long and costly attempt to storm Avdiivka, a strategically-important city in eastern Ukraine.

The efforts came as both sides are keen to show they are not deadlocked as the fighting approaches 2024.

Neither side has gained much ground despite a Ukrainian counter-offensive that began in June.

With winter weather setting in, bringing snow and freezing temperatures to the battlefield, Ukraine and Russia are looking to take ground that could provide platforms for future advances.

Ukrainian soldiers pass by a burning volunteer bus
Ukrainian soldiers pass by a volunteer bus burning after a Russian drone hit it near Bakhmut (Shandyba Mykyta, Ukrainian 10th Mountain Assault Brigade “Edelweiss” via AP/PA)

The Moscow-appointed governor for the Russian-occupied part of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said Ukraine launched a major drone attack on Crimea early on Friday.

He claimed that dozens of drones were shot down over the province and the northern part of Crimea.

Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world considered illegal, and has used it as a staging and supply point during the war.

The Russian Defence Ministry said air defences downed 13 Ukrainian drones over Crimea and three more over southern Russia’s Volgograd region.

It was not possible to independently verify either side’s battlefield claims.

Russia has been trying to capture Avdiivka since October 10, using heavy bombardments and reportedly taking heavy losses.

The city is wrecked and the battle has become reminiscent of the fight over the eastern Ukraine city of Bakhmut, which was largely destroyed during nine months of fighting before Russian troops eventually captured it.

Avdiivka lies in the northern suburbs of Donetsk, a city in a region of the same name that Russian forces partially occupy.

Avdiivka’s location grants Ukrainian forces artillery advantages over the city and could serve as a springboard for them to liberate Donetsk.

After intense artillery and aerial bombardments, Russian troops attacked the heavily-fortified city from an additional direction and spread along the line of contact whereas before they attacked in columns, Vitalii Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military administration, said.

The city is enduring up to 40 bombardments daily, he added.