© 2024 KUAF
NPR Affiliate since 1985
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Affected by May 26 tornadoes? Find relief resources here.

31,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed so far in the war, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy answers media questions, during his press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday.
Evgeniy Maloletka
/
AP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy answers media questions, during his press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday.

KYIV, Ukraine — At least 31,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began two years ago, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters at a forum on Sunday.

It's the first time Ukraine has publicly given a figure for military casualties, though Zelenskyy declined to say how many soldiers are wounded or missing, saying the information would help Russia.

U.S. officials have said the number of dead is much higher.

Zelenskyy also suggested that the Kremlin got a hold of Ukraine's counteroffensive plans last summer and that this year, "several plans will be prepared because of information leaks."

Flags commemorate fallen Ukrainian soldiers at Independence Square in Kyiv on Saturday, marking the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Roman Pilipey / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Flags commemorate fallen Ukrainian soldiers at Independence Square in Kyiv on Saturday, marking the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops are running low on ammunition

As Russia's war on Ukraine enters its third year, Zelenskyy says 2024 could be decisive. A top priority is ensuring Ukraine has enough weapons, especially long-range missiles, as well as ammunition, to defend itself from Russian forces.

"You cannot win only with bravery," said Anton Tarasov, a 49-year-old soldier, speaking to NPR in Kyiv while on a short break from the front line. "I know hundreds of great soldiers. But if we don't have ammunition, we can't fight back, we can't save lives. Just give us the tools. And we will do the rest."

Ukrainian troops low on ammunition were recently forced to withdraw from the town of Avdiivka, in the east, after months of relentless shooting and bombing by Russian forces.

Now Russian forces are on the offensive along several points on the eastern front line as Ukraine waits for a $61 billion aid package held up by congressional Republicans.

"They know we need their support within a month," Zelenskyy said. "I am sure there will be a positive decision. Otherwise, I will be left wondering what kind of world we live in."

Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, also speaking at Sunday's form, said 50% of military aid to Ukraine has not arrived on time, which can be deadly in what he called "the mathematics of war." He said Russia has spent $150 billion — or 15% of its GDP — on attacking Ukraine, which has far fewer resources.

"So basically, whenever a commitment doesn't come on time," he said, "we lose people, we lose territory."

Oleksandr Kamyshin, the minister for strategic industries of Ukraine, at the Ukraine 2024 forum in Kyiv on Sunday.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Oleksandr Kamyshin, the minister for strategic industries of Ukraine, at the Ukraine 2024 forum in Kyiv on Sunday.

Ukraine is working to develop its own weapons

Ukraine has been rapidly developing its weapons industry in the past year. Oleksandr Kamyshin, the country's minister of strategic industries, told NPR that Ukraine has the know-how to produce "at least the basic range of weapons and ammunition we need."

He said Ukraine has also developed "do-it-yourself air defense" by using Western missiles on Soviet launchers "to protect our sky" from Russian attacks. And he added that the defense tech sector is growing quickly, especially in drones and electronic warfare.

"We have scarce funding," he said. "That's the challenge we have. The rest is doable."

Earlier this month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg promised that NATO members would provide a million drones to Ukraine this year. Kamyshin is asking those countries to instead buy the drones from Ukrainian manufacturers to help finance the sector.

Attendees of the Ukraine 2024 forum look at a presentation about use of drones during the war with Russia.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Attendees of the Ukraine 2024 forum look at a presentation about use of drones during the war with Russia.

"At this point, we can already produce many more [drones] than the budget funds we have available," he said. "We know the drones work on the front line. We are price competitive."

In the meantime, European Union leaders are promising to speed up arms supplies. French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting European leaders on Monday to discuss military and diplomatic support for Ukraine. Zelenskyy, who is expected to attend via video link, said on Sunday that he's asked Macron for Mirage fighter jets.

NPR producer Hanna Palamarenko contributed reporting from Kyiv.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.