Pavlograd, Ukraine – The American military announced on Monday that the battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which Russia has repeatedly claimed is on the verge of being seized, has cost Vladimir Putin’s forces about 20,000 lives since December alone. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the number of casualties rose to 100,000 people, if we include wounded Russian fighters.
Russia dismissed the casualty report from Washington on Tuesday as “plucked out of thin air” but did not provide any statistics of its own. The last time Moscow gave any indication of troop losses in Ukraine was in September, when the defense minister said about 6,000 troops had been killed.
Kirby said he did not have figures on casualties among Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, but the battle was grueling and this week it emerged that a former US Marine was among those killed on the Ukrainian side of the front line. Former Marine “Harris” Andrews, 26, of Cleveland, was killed in Ukraine last week, his mother said CNN. She said he was hit by a mortar while helping to evacuate civilians from Bakhmut, where Russian and Ukrainian forces had engaged each other in a bloody standoff.
As anticipation grows for the upcoming Ukrainian spring counteroffensive, Russia is taking preemptive revenge against the Ukrainian people by striking civilian areas far from the front lines.
Over the course of three days, Russia bombarded cities across Ukraine with missiles and explosive drones, including a second strike targeting the capital, Kyiv. Ukraine’s air defense systems stop many Russian missiles — this is a wall of defense that President Volodymyr Zelensky promised his country to strengthen with the help of the United States and other “partners.”
On Monday evening, Zelensky said that in just seven hours, from midnight to Monday morning, Ukraine “managed to shoot down 15 Russian missiles. But, unfortunately, not everyone.”
Several rockets slipped through the air defense network and at least one hit the eastern city of Pavlograd, about 70 miles from the front line and Russian-occupied territory.
A huge fireball lit up the sky amid the strikes. The Ukrainian authorities would say only “hit on the industrial complex”. But not all missiles hit the target.
As a result of the attack on Pavlograd, two people were killed and 40 others were injured. Residents told CBS News that air raid sirens blared throughout the night.
When the alarm sounded, Olga and Siarhei Litvenenko hid in a garage on their property. They went back inside around 2:30 a.m., but as the sound of explosions got closer, they decided it was time to seek shelter again.
“I told my wife: ‘Let’s run, we might hit the house,'” said Sergei, so they quickly put on their shoes and headed back to the garage.
Then there was an explosion. Sergei said that the rocket flew straight into the garage as they approached it. He pointed to the charred remains of their car.
“It overturned before my eyes… There was so much smoke, dust, and the fire started,” he recalled. He said he ran to the well and tried to connect a hose to put out the flames, but the pump was damaged and he had to resort to a bucket.
“I poured [water] on the car, I wanted to keep it. But I couldn’t… It just burned up in a minute,” he said.
Sergei, who worked in the mines near Bakhmut for 36 years, knows how closely he and his wife bonded, and the shock was still fresh.
“I was lucky,” Sergei told CBS News. “Extremely lucky. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened. In my mind it seems that I am somewhere else.’
“I have a son on the front lines now,” said Sergei, cursing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “beast.”
Ukrainian military and civilians are preparing for more preemptive Russian strikes on the eve of the long-awaited spring counteroffensive.
A senior Ukrainian Defense Ministry official told CBS News that preparations are almost complete, but recent rainy weather may have delayed the start. When it starts, he said, “the whole world will know.”