Zelenskyy says Russian forces now occupy one-fifth of Ukraine’s territory
By Matthew Mpoke Bigg
Russian forces now occupy one-fifth of his country’s territory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday, offering a startling perspective on how the biggest international conflict in Europe since World War II has sundered a nation on the borders of the European Union and NATO.
“If you look at the entire front line, and it is, of course, not straight, this line is more than a thousand kilometers,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the parliament of Luxembourg. “Just imagine! Constant fighting, which stretched along the front line for more than a thousand kilometers.”
Russian forces have withdrawn from around the capital, Kyiv, in the north of Ukraine after failing to capture it early in the conflict. But Zelenskyy said fighting is raging along a long crescent-shaped front, from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the outskirts of the city of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, in the south.
Zelenskyy did not say how much new territory Russia has seized since it launched its invasion Feb. 24. In 2014, Moscow seized the Crimea region in the south, where its Black Sea fleet is based, and Russia-backed separatists took over parts of the Donbas region, which borders Russia to the east.
Russia made its swiftest and largest gains in the first weeks of the war, capturing land in the south, east and around Kharkiv. Its most significant single gain was the southern port city of Mariupol, which it wrested from Ukrainian control in May after months of fighting and artillery attacks that killed thousands and left the city in ruins.
Zelenskyy said Russian troops have occupied a total of 3,620 population settlements, which includes cities, towns and villages, but, in a sign of the war’s shifting dynamics, he said Ukraine has “liberated” 1,017 of those places.
In another measure of the war’s toll, Zelenskyy said about 14,000 Ukrainian civilians and service members have been killed in the war. At least 1.5 million people have fled their homes to elsewhere in the country and about 5 million have fled abroad as refugees.
The United Nations estimated last week that about 4,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine. Russia has not released casualty figures since late March, when it said 1,351 soldiers had died, but Zelenskyy said Ukrainian officials believe at least 30,000 Russian troops have been killed.