Ukraine Claims Gains Near Bakhmut as Deadly Fighting Continues
KYIV, Ukraine — Inside the office of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, a digital map of Ukraine was lit up on Tuesday with lines tracing missile trajectories from the latest Russian bombardment.
Oleksiy Danilov, the head of the council, sat behind his desk looking at the blizzard of lines that lit up his computer screen as he reviewed the strikes of the past week, then the past month, then the past year. In a country about twice the size of Italy, virtually no corner appeared to have been untouched by strikes.
Every one, he said, meant more destruction and potentially more lives lost. Over the past week, the data onscreen also showed a noticeable increase in lines tracing a path toward the capital, Kyiv. The data on the map had been compiled by Ukraine’s military and had not been independently verified.
Mr. Danilov said he had no doubt that Moscow would like to strike a deadly blow in the capital and hit the seat of the government.
But he also attributed the recent increase in attacks aimed at the capital to the time of year. On Tuesday, Moscow commemorated Victory Day, a national holiday marking the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany that Moscow has turned into an annual celebration of the country’s military might.
Like other senior Ukrainian officials, Mr. Danilov would not be drawn into speculation about when, where and how Ukraine would launch a long-heralded counteroffensive meant to break through the Russian lines.
“If someone tells you he knows when and in which direction the counteroffensive would start,” he said, “be sure he doesn’t know what he is talking about.”
When asked about orders recently issued by the Russian occupation authorities for people to leave towns and cities across the front line, he smiled.
“I would advise them to evacuate from our territories as soon as possible,” he said, calling for everyone to leave. “Including Crimea — while the bridge is still working,” he added, referring to the Kerch Strait Bridge, a critical artery connecting Russia with Crimea, the peninsula that Russia seized illegally in 2014, which was attacked and severely damaged last year.
But Mr. Danilov’s outward confidence in Ukraine’s ultimate victory and anger at the Kremlin were underpinned by a deep sadness.
“I’m getting sentimental now,” he said when asked how he had changed over the past 15 months. “Two of my children are in Germany. Recently, they performed in a concert to raise money to buy an ambulance for a hospital in Ukraine. When I think about what Putin is doing to Ukraine — that children have to raise money for ambulances — and how many children he killed and injured already, it makes me cry.”
In multiple interviews over the course of the war, Mr. Danilov has often talked about how he believes that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022, will ultimately lead to the breakup of the Russian Federation.
“On Feb. 24, I said it was the beginning of Russia’s fragmentation,” he said. “And so it would be. Russia will fall apart.”
In the meantime, he is constantly confronted with the daily reality of the toll the war is taking. All senior officials in Kyiv get a morning update from Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s supreme military commander.
He read from one sent before dawn on Tuesday morning. At that point, the military had traced 17 missiles streaking across Ukraine. Fifteen were shot down. Two got through the air defenses, he said, but the damage was limited.
“Luckily no losses today,” he said.