Ukraine war: Russia 'has lost up to a fifth of its pre-invasion force'

Russia has seen up to 28,000 troops killed, wounded or captured in Ukraine – around a fifth of its force – US says, as invasion ‘stalls on all fronts’ but shelling of cities continues

  • Russia has seen at least 7,000 soldiers killed and up to 21,000 wounded, according to new Pentagon estimate
  • Fifth of the force Putin amassed before war could now be out of action, as units become ‘combat ineffective’ 
  • British intelligence says Russian advance has now stalled ‘on all fronts’ with ‘heavy casualties’ being suffered 
  • Shelling of major cities continued today, with Kyiv struck in the early hours and Kharkiv bombed overnight 

Russia has lost up to 28,000 soldiers killed and wounded during three weeks of fighting in Ukraine, the US believes, as Vladimir Putin’s invasion stalls ‘on all fronts’ but shelling of cities including Kyiv continues.

The Pentagon estimates at least 7,000 Russian troops have now died in the fighting while another 14,000 to 21,000 have been wounded – accounting for nearly a fifth of the estimated 150,000 men that Putin amassed on the border before giving the order to attack 21 days ago.

The staggering toll is roughly double NATO losses in Afghanistan over two decades of fighting, and roughly equal to US casualties in the 36-day battle of Iwo Jima – one of the bloodiest clashes in the Pacific during the Second World War. Losses are now so severe, US intelligence believes some Russian units cannot keep fighting.

That tallies with assessments by British intelligence, which said today that Russia’s invasion has stalled ‘on all fronts’ with ‘minimal progress on land, sea or air’ in the last 24 hours while continuing to ‘suffer heavy losses’.

But the bombardment of Ukrainian cities continues never-the-less, with Kyiv struck by missiles in the early hours – one of which was shot down, though wreckage still struck a 16-storey apartment block, killing one person and sparking fires which injured dozens of others.

Mariupol, the heavily besieged city in the south of Ukraine, also continued to come under heavy fire as city officials estimated that at least 2,400 people have now been killed there – though mayoral adviser Petro Andriushchenko said the true toll could be as high as 20,000 once cut-off areas have been searched for victims.

A man mourns next to the body of his mother, who was killed when the remains of an intercepted Russian missile hit a residential building in the capital Kyiv, leaving dozens of others wounded

A fire truck sits outside a school building in the city of Sumy, in eastern Ukraine, after it was hit by a Russian bomb and partially destroyed as Moscow keeps up its bombardment

A satellite image taken over the city of Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine, on Wednesday and released Thursday shows blasts and fires caused by Russian air strikes in civilian areas

Firemen evacuate people from a residential tower block in Kyiv after the remains of a shot-down Russian missile crashed into it, leaving one person dead and wounding dozens

Rescuers work at a site of a residential building damaged by an airstrike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv

Flames burn inside a partially-destroyed building in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, after it was hit by a Russian air strike

A fireman assesses the damage to a residential building in the capital Kyiv after it was struck by Russian artillery

A woman is evacuated by firefighters after the remains of a downed missile damaged a residential building in Kyiv

Andriushchenko spoke even before a theatre in the city housing up to 1,200 civilians was struck and destroyed by Russian forces Wednesday evening – despite having signs that said ‘kids’ in Russian positioned outside it. President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack ‘heartbreaking’ while Joe Biden branded Putin a ‘war criminal.’

Casualties from the attack are unclear. City officials said Thursday morning that evacuations are now underway, and that a bomb shelter at the theatre survived the strike. It is unclear how many people were inside at the time. 

Despite the mounting death toll, peace talks between the two sides are continuing with concrete proposals for a ceasefire being discussed. Russian negotiators yesterday briefed journalists on their 15-point plan for peace, which would see Ukraine declare neutrality and place limits on its armed forces in return for Russian withdrawal.

Ukraine’s chief negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak would not be drawn on the plan, saying only that the two sides had discussed it and it did not take Kyiv’s negotiating position into account. The proposal makes no mention of Crimea and Donbass – Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia and its proxies before the invasion – with President Zelensky later reiterating that his country’s territorial integrity is not up for negotiation.

Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said late Wednesday that he believes Russia is only ‘pretending to negotiate’ with Ukraine amid fears that any ceasefire will be used by Putin to rearm and resupply his forces before attacking again. The US says he has already reached out to China for military supplies, while the UK believes he is drawing soldiers from Russia’s far east and Pacific as reinforcements. 

The latest assaults on civilians across Ukraine came as President Volodymyr Zelensky made a searing appeal for help to the US, which responded by pledging $1 billion in new weapons to fight Russia’s invading army.

Officials across Ukraine are struggling to count the civilian dead – with authorities saying 103 children have been killed since the invasion began – who have been targeted in homes, hospitals, ambulances and food queues.

In the port city of Mariupol – where more than 2,000 people have died so far – a Russian bomb hit the Drama Theatre, which city council officials said had been housing over 1,000 people.

‘The only word to describe what has happened today is genocide, genocide of our nation, our Ukrainian people,’ the city’s mayor Vadim Boychenko said in a video message on Telegram.

‘We have difficulty understanding all of this, we refuse to believe, we want to close our eyes and forget the nightmare that happened today,’ he said.

Satellite images of the theatre on March 14 shared by private satellite company Maxar showed the words ‘children’ clearly etched out in the ground in Russian on either side of the building.

Officials posted a photo of the building, whose middle part was completely destroyed, with thick white smoke rising from the rubble after they said a bomb was dropped from an airplane.

‘It is impossible to find words to describe the level of cynicism and cruelty, with which Russian invaders are destroying peaceful residents of a Ukrainian city by the sea,’ an official statement read.

Russia’s defence ministry denied it had targeted the theatre, instead claiming that the building had been mined and blown up by members of Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said that while it couldn’t rule out the ‘possibility of a Ukrainian military target in the area of the theatre… we do know that the theatre had been housing at least 500 civilians.’

‘This raises serious concerns about what the intended target was in a city where civilians have already been under siege for days and telecommunications, power, water, and heating have been almost completely cut off,’ said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at the rights watchdog.

So far the destruction that has marked other cities has been halted outside the capital Kyiv, which has been emptied of around half of its 3.5 million people.

But dull booms echoed across the capital’s deserted streets Wednesday, with only an occasional vehicle passing through sandbagged checkpoints, and very few permits granted to break its latest curfew. 

In an address to the US Congress, Zelensky invoked Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 attacks and Martin Luther King Jr as he showed lawmakers a video of the wrenching effect of three weeks of Russian attacks.

Zelensky, dressed in military green, demanded Washington and its NATO allies impose a no-fly zone, so that ‘Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities.’

Switching to English, Zelensky addressed Biden directly, saying: ‘I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.’

Biden and NATO have resisted Zelensky’s pleas for direct involvement against nuclear-armed Russia, warning it could lead to World War Three – though the Ukrainian leader told NBC that ‘may have already started.’

But on Wednesday Biden announced the United States’ latest package of new weapons aid to Ukraine added up to $1 billion and that the US would help the ex-Soviet state acquire longer-range anti-aircraft weapons.

The US president also stepped up his condemnation of the Russian leader, describing him as a ‘war criminal.’

The Kremlin called the comment ‘unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world.’

Britain’s diplomatic mission to the UN also tweeted that Russia is committing ‘war crimes and targeting civilians’ in Ukraine, after the British government requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting over the deteriorating humanitarian situation there.

‘Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine is a threat to us all,’ it posted Wednesday, saying the request was made with the US, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland.

Putin at a televised government meeting insisted the invasion was ‘developing successfully,’ adding ‘we will not allow Ukraine to serve as a springboard for aggressive actions against Russia.’

As his government accelerated a crackdown that saw at least a dozen media websites blocked Wednesday, Putin claimed that the West sought to divide Russian society, railing against a ‘fifth column’ that was ‘mentally’ in the West.

‘Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from traitors and just spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouth,’ he said.

He also condemned western sanctions against his regime that have pushed Russia close to a default on its foreign debts as ‘economic blitzkrieg’. 

As the civilian toll in Ukraine climbed, the World Health Organization said that healthcare facilities and personnel were being attacked at an unprecedented rate.

‘We’ve never seen globally… this rate of attacks on healthcare,’ the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters, warning that ‘this crisis is reaching a point where the health system in Ukraine is teetering on the brink’.

The UN health agency has verified 43 attacks on health facilities, ambulances and health personnel in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, killing 12 people and injuring 34.

And the conflict has already sent more than three million Ukrainians fleeing across the border, many of them women and children, 103 of whom have been killed since the invasion began, authorities have said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a ‘compromise’ outcome would centre on Ukraine becoming a neutral state comparable to Sweden and Austria.

But Zelensky’s office gave the idea short shrift – and many Ukrainians themselves remained defiant.

Retired tennis player Alexandr Dolgopolov went home to Kyiv to take up arms and defend his native city.

‘Used to be rackets and strings, now this,’ the 33-year-old wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of a rifle, helmet and flak jacket.

The mayor of Ukraine’s southern city of Melitopol was released days after Kyiv said he was abducted by Russian forces.

‘Thank you for not abandoning me,’ Ivan Fedorov told Zelensky, according to a video of their phone call posted on Telegram.

‘I will need one or two days to recover and then I will be at your disposal to contribute to our victory.’

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