Before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Severodonetsk was a busy industrial city in the eastern Donbas region, boasting a population of 100,000 people on the banks of the Siverskyi Donets river.
On Friday, 100 days after the invasion began, the city lay in ruins. Fewer than 15,000 residents remained, most taking shelter amid smoldering buildings while Ukrainian fighters waged a frenzied battle, street by street, against a Russian onslaught.
“We’re gonna push the Russians back,” Zurab Kakalidze, a 22-year-old Georgian fighting in Servodonetsk for Ukraine told Reuters on Friday. “It will take a day, a month, or a year. It does not f—ing matter. We are on the right side of history.
“So we’re gonna make sure all of us, we’re gonna get back home with our families. And we’re gonna make sure the occupiers don’t do the same.”
But many Ukrainian families have no home to speak of, victimized by war that has featured near-constant artillery and air strikes against many of Ukraine’s urban centers.
As Europe’s biggest conflict since the end of World War II turns 100 days old:
- More than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced by the war, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That figure doesn’t account for the additional 6.5 million Ukrainians estimated to have left the country to escape the fighting.
- Ukraine’s parliamentary commission on human rights says Russia’s military has destroyed almost 38,000 residential buildings, rendering about 220,000 people homeless. The fighting has also damaged nearly 1,900 educational facilities from kindergartens to grade schools to universities have been damaged — 180 of which are a total loss. Other infrastructure losses include 300 car and 50 rail bridges, 500 factories and about 500 damaged hospitals, according to Ukrainian officials.
- Kyiv government officials say Russia controls approximately 22,000 more square miles of Ukrainian territory than before the war, an area slightly smaller in size than West Virginia.
- The US has committed approximately $3.9 billion toward providing Ukraine weapons and other “security assistance,” according to the Defense Department.
The human toll is harder to calculate. The UN confirmed 4,031 civilians — including nearly 200 children — killed in its most recent tally last month, but said in a statement that the true number is likely “considerably higher,” given the inability to confirm civilian deaths where fighting is still ongoing.
In particular, the UN said it was still trying to confirm reports of “numerous” civilian deaths in Mariupol, Izium and Popasna.
Part of the difficulty in tallying civilian deaths is the nature of their demise. Russia’s primary tactic — as seen in Mariupol, Severodonestk and even Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv — has been to encircle a city and bombard it into submission before sending in troops. In Mariupol, for example, this led to civilian deaths from dehydration and starvation as well as from explosions.
Local officials have estimated that more than 21,000 civilians died in the besieged port city before it fell to Russian troops late last month.
Some of the killing has been up close and personal as well.
Ukrainian forces liberating Kyiv’s northern suburbs in early April found the bodies of dead civilians in the street, as well as in hastily-dug mass graves. The bodies — some with their hands tied together — showed evidence of being shot at close range. Others lay in the street beside bicycles they had been riding when they were killed.
Satellite imagery from other occupied areas, like the northern suburbs of Mariupol, suggest the atrocities outside Kyiv were not isolated incidents.
Combatant deaths over the past 100 days are even harder to count, with neither side giving verifiable numbers.
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that 30,000 Russian soldiers had been killed since the invasion began. In April, British intelligence estimated the Russian death toll at half that number: 15,000 — roughly the same number as died during the Soviet Union’s decade-long conflict in Afghanistan.
Speaking on condition of anonymity Wednesday to discuss intelligence matters, a Western official told the Associated Press that Russia is “still taking casualties, but … in smaller numbers.” The official estimated that some 40,000 Russian troops have been wounded.
The Kremlin stopped publicly releasing its own count of Russian war dead months ago. The most recent figures, revealed by a general to state media March 25, indicated that 1,351 of Moscow’s soldiers had been killed and 3,825 wounded — a figure widely regarded as a laughable undercount.
Ukrainian casualty numbers are similarly difficult to pin down. Zelensky said this week that as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying each day in the struggle for Donbas, with about 500 more wounded — but Kyiv has kept more detailed figures close to hand.
In mid-April, Russia claimed it had killed more than 23,000 Ukrainian troops. US intelligence officials who spoke to the New York Times at around the same time estimated the number of Ukraine war dead was between 5,500 and 11,000, while Kyiv itself said no more than 3,000 of its forces had died in battle.
As the death toll climbs, the war drags on with no clear end in sight. While Russia has made clear gains in Donbas, a Ukrainian counteroffensive is expected in several weeks when a shipment of American and British precision rocket artillery is due to reach the front.
One hundred days down, many more to go.
With Post wires