24 Aug 2022
A Ukrainian soldier says it feels like Russian troops have little interest in seizing land, but instead want a ‘genocide’ of his people.
Today marks exactly six months since Russia invaded its neighbour on February 24, and coincides with Ukraine’s Independence Day – a celebration of the day it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Half a year after he ordered his Army to attack, Vladimir Putin now controls 20% of Ukraine.
However, reports suggest his health is ‘spiralling’ after the swift victory he planned for never emerged.
Volunteer fighter Dmytro Vasyliovvch Kurylyak, 31, who is based in Odessa, says the Kremlin troops he has faced ‘seek only to destroy’.
The ex-warehouse worker, who left his wife Liliya, 28, and his son Maksym, 4, who is battling cancer, behind to enlist in February, says nothing could have prepared him for the front line.
The father-of-one was shot in both legs in late April, also suffering a shrapnel wound on his back, and stays in Odessa with his comrades as he continues to recover.
He believes the war will last two more years, but has warned the Ukrainian Army will not give up until the enemy leaves them to ‘live as free people’.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, Dmytro said: ‘When the war began, certain countries gave us from five to seven days.
‘Others said it would be a month until we fell and that all Ukraine had was spirit. It’s been six months now.
‘Yes, the Russians occupy some areas, but they don’t want to seize Ukraine. If you could see what they’re doing, how they are operating, they’re just destroying everything.
‘So this simply is a genocide of the Ukrainian people. They don’t want to conquer the country, they want to destroy it. That’s all, and it’s a big difference.’
Ukraine has previously accused Russia of perpetrating genocide after hospitals were targeted and mass graves discovered. Moscow denies massacring civilians and violating international law.
It comes as other Ukrainian soldiers speak of Russia’s inhumane tactics, with one saying he fears ‘barbaric’ Putin will resort to weapons of mass destruction.
Dmytro, who had no military experience before the war, describes life on the battlefield as ‘a rain of shelling non-stop’.
‘No one really prepared me for the fact that I would have to shoot to kill’, he said.
‘But when you know you are on your own land, and if you don’t shoot, you won’t stay alive, it explains everything for you and there are no other options.
‘The moral spirit of the Ukrainian military is at as high a level as it was on the first day.
‘It’s difficult, but it is our country and we want to live as free people and to not be afraid to speak. They came to us, not us to them, so we have every right to defend.’
Odesa, which has Ukraine’s largest port and is its strongest link to the world economy, is seen as a huge prize and is thought to be personally important to Putin.
The city has faced bombardment but has not suffered the destruction of other areas. Its ports recently came back to life after an international brokered deal lifted a blockade at the hands of the Russian navy.
But Putin has secured other areas, including the Kherson region and part of the neighbouring Zaporizhzhia region.
Pro-Moscow administrations have been installed there, new currency introduced, and Russian passports handed out, while preparations have been launched for referendums to pave the way for their annexation.
Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a military analyst with the Kyiv-based Razumkov Centre think-tank, has warned ‘Putin will try to bite one piece of Ukrainian territory after another to strengthen his negotiating stand’.
‘His message to Ukraine is “If you don’t sit down for talks now, things will get worse and we will take even more of your territory and kill even more of your people”.
‘He’s trying to raise not only external but also internal pressure on the Ukrainian government.’
Ukraine is on high alert today, with Kyiv banning Independence Day festivities and Volodymyr Zelensky warning Moscow could try something ‘particularly ugly’.
However, huge losses have seemingly eroded the Russian Army’s capability to conduct big offensives.
The Pentagon said last week that between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in action.
Ukraine’s military chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said on Monday that nearly 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers are dead. Metro.co.uk has been unable to verify losses on either side.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded more than 5,500 civilian deaths in the war – but noted that this figure could be significantly higher.
Putin’s ‘brutal’ invasion has also sparked the largest post-war refugee crisis in Europe.