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Zelenskyy sidesteps Sky News question about territory and calls for more shells for Ukraine | World News

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The city of Avdiivka now constitutes a Russian trophy in a state of ruin.

The logistics hub – or what’s left of it – was exhibited by uniformed Russian officials after months of intensive fighting on the front line.

It is their latest conquest in the invasion of Ukraine and the latest setback for their hard-pressed neighbour.

It was with reports of further Russian advances in villages surrounding Avdiivka that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy convened an all-day conference along with his ministers and generals, in a smart Kyiv hotel.

The gathering may have been designed as a show of confidence – or reassurance – but his address began with something that sounded like an admission – the first time he has spoken about the number of Ukrainian soldiers who have died since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

Members of the Russian military inspect a damaged building, in a location given as Avdiivka, Ukraine, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video released February 22, 2024. Russian Defence Ministry/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Members of the Russian military in a location given as Avdiivka. Pic: Reuters

“I’m not sure if I have the right. It’s a very serious moment. Let’s start from the beginning. Recently, there were voices in a radical part of some American political circles that were not on our side. They said, ‘How many more casualties do you want? Ukraine has lost 300,000 lives…’ This is all nonsense, this is all rubbish. Every person lost is a great loss for us, and it’s a very big loss for us – 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers died in this war.”

Critics will argue that the number is too low with Western officials saying the total is closer to 70,000, although the president had felt the need to give a figure.

There was another attempt at candour when I asked the Ukrainian leader whether he was prepared to cede territory to the Russians as the country attempts to rearm its depleted military.

President Zelenskyy responded by referring to the shortage of artillery shells now faced by his forces – a ratio he estimated at one Ukrainian shell for every 12 Russian munitions fired.

“When we are at 1 to 1.5 [shells] or 1 to 3 [shells] then we can push back the Russians. Until we reach such numbers, we either hold our positions – or we lose them – 100 metres, 50 metres. Unfortunately, this is it.”

The prospect that Ukrainian forces will lose ground to the Russians seemed all too real to our team when we travelled to the city of Kupyansk on the north-eastern section of the front.

Soldiers told us they were under severe pressure with Russian troops mounting continuous attacks. An anti-tank commander said he only had enough grenades to fire for approximately 15 minutes.

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Chief of the Military Intelligence of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov speaks with journalists during 'Ukraine. Year 2024' conference, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
Chief of Ukrainian military intelligence Kyrylo Budanov

This was something we were able to raise with the country’s powerful head of military intelligence, General Kyrylo Budanov, who also attended the conference.

“It’s been a really tough period at the front [for Ukraine], what message are you trying to send now?” I asked when we spoke outside the main hall.

“Listen, don’t dramatise the situation, that’s what I want to say. The situation is hardly different from yesterday, the day before, or a month ago,” he responded with evident frustration.

“But your soldiers are under pressure,” I responded, “we have been to Kupyansk,” I said before the general cut me off.

“There are no problems in the Kupyansk direction. There are issues in Avdiivka direction,” he said.

“What do you want from the West? What do you need?”

“We need weapons, and the sooner the better.”

The Ukrainians used this conference to sell the national story of resilience and heroic struggle – but it was General Budanov who seemed to get to the point.

Survival will not be achieved without urgent Western help.

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