Zelenskyy says 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed in war with Russia

Ukrainian president’s comments are the first time that Kyiv has confirmed the number of its losses since the Russian invasion began.

Soldiers carry the coffin of Ukrainian poet and serviceman Maksym Kryvtsov, who was killed in action fighting against Russia’s attack on Ukraine, during his funeral ceremony at St. Michael's Monastery in Kyiv, January 11, 2024 [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action in the two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

Speaking at the “Ukraine. Year 2024” forum in Kyiv, Zelenskyy said that “each of these losses is a great sacrifice” for Ukraine.

He added that “tens of thousands of civilians” had been killed in occupied areas of Ukraine, but said that no exact figures would be available until the war was over.

It’s the first time that Kyiv has confirmed the number of its losses since the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Russia has also provided few official casualty figures. Independent Russian news outlet Mediazona said on Saturday that about 75,000 Russian men died in 2022 and 2023 fighting in the war.

A United States intelligence report declassified in mid-December 2023 estimated that 315,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded in Ukraine. If accurate, the figure would represent 87 percent of the roughly 360,000 troops Russia had before the war, according to the report.

Delays in arms shipments

It has been two years since Russia invaded Ukraine and commemorations to mark the second anniversary brought expressions of continued support, new bilateral security agreements and new aid commitments from Ukraine’s Western allies.

But Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov highlighted that they still needed to deliver on their commitments if Kyiv is to have any chance of holding out against Moscow and stressed that delays in arms shipments will cost lives.

“We look to the enemy: Their economy is almost $2 trillion, they use up to 15 percent official and nonofficial budget [funds] for the war, which constitutes over $100bn annually. So basically whenever a commitment doesn’t come on time, we lose people, we lose territory,” he said, speaking at the Kyiv forum.

Europe has admitted it will fall far short of a plan to deliver more than one million artillery shells to Ukraine by March, instead hoping to complete the shipments by the end of the year.

Umerov highlighted that such delays put Ukraine at a further disadvantage “in the mathematics of war” against Russia, which the West has said is increasingly building a war economy.

Kyiv has also been weakened by the blocking of a vital $60bn US aid package amid political wrangling in the US Congress.

US President Joe Biden said the hold-ups directly contributed to Ukraine being forced to withdraw from Avdiivka.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said he was “deeply convinced that the US will not abandon Ukraine in terms of financial, military and armed support”.

‘Plan for new offensive against Russia’

In recent weeks, fighting has intensified on parts of the front line. On Sunday, Russian shelling and rocket strikes continued to pummel Ukraine’s south and east, as local Ukrainian officials reported that at least two civilians were killed and eight others were wounded in the Zaporizhia and Kherson provinces.

Moscow and Kyiv also continued to trade nightly drone attacks, with Ukraine’s air defences shooting down 16 of 18 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched overnight by Moscow and a Russian drone on Sunday morning striking an unspecified facility in Ukraine’s western Khmelnytskyi region, the regional military administration reported without giving details.

Russian troops also appeared to be pressing on west of Avdiivka, the strategic city whose capture this month handed Moscow a significant victory.

Zelenskyy told a news conference on Sunday that Ukraine has a clear plan for a new counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Kyiv’s troops conducted a counteroffensive last year, but were unable to break through prepared defensive lines in the Russian-occupied south and east.

“There is a plan [for a counteroffensive], the plan is clear, I can’t tell you the details,” Zelenskyy said.

He said that a major shake-up that saw the head of Ukraine’s military replaced earlier this month was connected to the new plan of action on the battlefield.

“This plan is related to the change of management; there are corresponding changes. Several plans will be prepared due to a leak of information,” Zelenskyy said, without elaborating.

Earlier he said that Kyiv’s plans to conduct a counteroffensive last year had been leaked and ended up “on a desk in the Kremlin” before the operation had even begun.

Meanwhile at the forum in Kyiv, besides highlighting issues in military deliveries, Umerov insisted that Ukrainian forces were doing “everything that’s possible, and also what’s impossible, to secure a breakthrough” this year.

The defence minister said that a “strong” military strategy is already in place for the coming months, but did not disclose details.

Source: News Agencies