The upcoming military operation will come at a tremendous cost, and many soldiers will die, the Ukrainian president has warned
Ukraine is ready to launch its long-awaited offensive, President Vladimir Zelensky told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in an interview published on Saturday. He did not reveal the exact date, but said Kiev can no longer "wait for months."
The operation is likely to inflict heavy losses on Ukrainian troops, and might not go exactly as planned, Zelensky admitted, adding that Russia's air superiority would inevitably mean Kiev's forces will be exposed to enemy fire.
"I don't know how long it will take," Zelensky said, commenting on the operation's potential timeframe. He added that "it can go a variety of ways, completely different."
The president admitted that the military equipment and weapons supplied to Ukraine by its Western backers are still not enough. "We would like to have certain things, but we can't wait for months," he said.
Zelensky also highlighted the need for stronger air defences, and claimed that the US-made Patriot systems are virtually the only ones in the world capable of countering certain Russian missile types.
He claimed Ukraine would need as many as 50 Patriot batteries to ensure sufficient air defenses. The lack of such protection means "a large number of soldiers will die," during the offensive, he added.
In May, Kiev claimed that its forces had managed to intercept a Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missile, using a Patriot air defense system. Moscow denied the claim, and accused Ukraine of routinely exaggerating the effectiveness of its air defenses.
Ukraine has long been discussing a counteroffensive against Russia to reclaim territories that Kiev considers as its own. It has postponed the operation several times, citing a lack of ammunition, weapons, and even adverse weather conditions. Back in mid-May Zelensky claimed Kiev was ready to launch the offensive, while maintaining it needed more Western weapons.
Ukrainian troops have suffered massive casualties since the start of the conflict, according to various estimates. A Pentagon document leaked earlier this year and cited by The Washington Post said that between 124,000 and 131,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or wounded since the start of the hostilities.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Aleksey Reznikov has rejected this assessment, saying the number of his troops killed in the conflict was less than the death toll from the earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria in February. The combined estimated fatalities in the two countries amounted to more than 55,000. Reznikov later apologized for the comparison, deemed insensitive by some people in the affected areas.
In May, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said the Ukrainian armed forces had sustained over 15,000 battlefield casualties in April alone. And in April, Ukrainian Brigadier General Sergey Melnik, deputy commander of the Ukrainian force grouping stationed in the northeastern Kharkov Region, admitted to Spanish newspaper El Pais that Ukraine had already lost most of its experienced troops to deaths and injuries. "The problem is that we have a lack of people and equipment," he said at the time, adding that Kiev had to rely on "people without military experience."