Russians have suffered 100,000 casualties, including 20,000 killed, since a war of attrition intensified in Ukraine’s Donetsk region in December, according to an estimate by the White House.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday said the figure was based on newly declassified United States intelligence. He did not detail how the intelligence community derived the number.
He added that about half of those killed were soldiers recruited by the private Wagner Group of mercenaries, which draws much of its ranks from prison populations in Russia.
The fiercest battles in the eastern province have been around the city of Bakhmut, where Wagner troops and other forces are fighting Ukrainian troops house-to-house to try to gain control of the last remaining road west that is still in Ukrainian hands, which makes it critical for supplies and fresh troops.
“The bottom line is that Russia’s attempted offensive has backfired after months of fighting and extraordinary losses,” Kirby said.
The spokesperson said the White House was not giving estimates of Ukrainian casualties because “they are the victims here. Russia is the aggressor.”
The head of Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said that Russia continued to exert “maximum effort” to take the city but that it so far had failed.
“In some parts of the city, the enemy was counterattacked by our units and left some positions,” he said.
Russia also targeted other Ukrainian regions overnight, including Dnipropetrovsk.
Ukrainian air defence crews destroyed 15 out of 18 missiles launched by Russian forces in the early hours of Monday. The missiles wounded at least 34 people in the eastern city of Pavlohrad but failed to hit Kyiv, officials said.
“Around 2:30 am (1130 GMT), the Russian invaders attacked Ukraine from strategic aviation planes,” the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Telegram.
Kyiv’s city officials also said all missiles directed at the capital were destroyed in the second attack on the city in three days.
“According to [preliminary information], no casualties among the civilian population and no destruction of residential facilities or infrastructure have been recorded,” the city administration said.
The US ambassador to Kyiv, Bridget Brink, condemned Russia’s overnight missile attack and called it “barbaric”.
“Russia again launched missiles in the deep of night at Ukrainian cities where civilians, including children, should be able to sleep safely and peacefully,” Brink said on Twitter.
Russia again launched missiles in the deep of night at Ukrainian cities where civilians, including children, should be able to sleep safely and peacefully. I am grateful for those who protect Ukraine’s skies, and the United States will continue to work hard and fast to support…
— Ambassador Bridget A. Brink (@USAmbKyiv) May 1, 2023
A Ukrainian military spokesperson said that Ukraine’s army was about to launch a counteroffensive and that the fire that destroyed a Russian fuel depot in Crimea on Sunday was “preparatory”.
In the Russian Bryansk region bordering Ukraine, an explosion derailed a freight train, the local governor said on Telegram.
Russian Railways, the country’s rail operator, said the incident occurred at 10:17am Moscow time (07:17 GMT).
“An unidentified explosive device went off at the 136-kilometre mark on the Bryansk-Unecha railway line, derailing a freight train,” Bryansk Governor Alexander Bogomaz said in a post on his Telegram channel.
Russian authorities say the region has seen multiple attacks by pro-Ukrainian sabotage groups, including the shelling of a village on Saturday, which killed four civilians.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis said the Vatican is involved in a secret peace mission to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“There is a mission in course now but it is not yet public. When it is public, I will reveal it,” the pope told reporters during a flight home after a three-day visit to Hungary.
“I think that peace is always made by opening channels. You can never achieve peace through closure … This is not easy.”
The pope added that he had spoken about the situation in Ukraine with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Metropolitan Hilarion, a bishop who represents the Russian Orthodox Church in Budapest.