Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that Russian troops in Donetsk are suffering large daily losses, leaving the region “littered” with Russian bodies.
During his nightly televised address on Monday, Zelensky said that Ukrainian counteroffensives were “gradually moving forward” and “pushing back” Russian forces in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Zelensky said that Donetsk, which Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed for Russia in late September, remained the “epicenter” of a Russian military “madness” that had resulted in hundreds of soldier deaths per day.
“The Donetsk region remains the epicenter of the greatest madness of the occupiers—they die by the hundreds every day,” Zelensky said. “The ground in front of the Ukrainian positions is literally littered with the bodies of the occupiers.”
Zelensky also pushed back against Russian officials denying its own naval unit’s claims of significant losses in Donetsk. A high-ranking unit of the Russian navy reportedly detailed the losses in a letter shared on Telegram this week.
The letter attributed to Russia’s 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade claimed that around 300 members of the unit were lost last week—including those “killed, wounded, and missing”—during an “incomprehensible” attack on the village of Pavlivka, southwest of the city of Donetsk.
“The district command together with [the brigade commander] are hiding this … for fear of accountability,” the letter reads. “They don’t care about anything other than showing off. They call people meat.”
The letter was addressed to Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of Russia’s far eastern region of Primorsky Krai, which is where the naval unit is based.
In a video message posted to Telegram, Kozhemyako reportedly admitted there were “losses” amid “heavy fighting” but claimed that the letter had exaggerated the losses.
“We contacted the commanders,” Kozhemyako said, according to Reuters. “Yes there are losses, there’s heavy fighting, but they are far from what is written in this appeal.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense also reportedly denied the magnitude of the losses, denying in a statement that the unit had suffered “high, pointless losses in people and equipment” while specifically describing the commanders as “competent.”
“Due to the competent actions of the unit commanders, the losses of marines for the given period do not exceed 1% of combat strength, and 7% wounded, a significant part of whom have already returned to duty,” the statement quoted by Russian state-run news agency RIA states, according to Reuters.
Zelensky denounced the Russian denials during his address on Monday. He said that Kozhemyako had “predictably lied” and pointed out that Primorsky Krai is far from Donetsk.
“From Vladivostok to Pavlovka, Donetsk region, it is more than 9 thousand kilometers,” Zelensky said. “But he is sure that the losses ‘are not such.’ The governor, probably, can better see from there how many soldiers from his region are sent for slaughter and in what way.”
“Or he was simply ordered to lie,” he continued. “Ordered from Moscow.”
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.