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With Thousands Dead, Millions Uprooted, All is ‘Normal’ and ‘According to Plan’

A destroyed residential building during a large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mariupol, March 25, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)
Maria Zakharova

Maria Zakharova

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson

“Exactly one month since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, it is going according to plan, and all the stated goals will be achieved. Life is returning to normal in the territories already liberated from nationalists.”


On March 24, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova summarized the status of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, using the Kremlin’s mandatory term “special military operation” instead of war.

“Exactly one month since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine; it is going according to plan, and all the stated goals will be achieved. Life is returning to normal in the territories already liberated from nationalists.”

That is false.

It is impossible to know what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan was in Ukraine. Still, judging by Russia’s confirmed losses since the operation began – likely an underestimate – and the fact that Russia has only captured some smaller cities, there’s reason for skepticism.

On March 21, three days before Zakharova’s statement, The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence officials conservatively estimated that Russia had lost more than 7,000 troops killed in action, with as many as 21,000 wounded or captured.

Russia has lost seven generals and several other senior commanders since launching the invasion, news reports say.

Analysts say Russia has lost dozens of aircraft and hundreds of vehicles, including more than 300 tanks. In the Russian-captured port of Berdyansk, on the Azov Sea, Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian landing ship and damaged two others.

The Russian military has only made progress in southern Ukraine – specifically, in Kherson oblast, where they captured the city of Kherson, and the city of Mariupol, which they have practically razed with artillery and airstrikes.

While it is impossible to know with certainty whether Putin and his generals planned for the war to go this way, Zakharova’s claim that life is “normal” in the “liberated” territories is clearly a fiction.

Large parts of residential Mariupol have been reduced to near rubble by Russian shelling. Russian troops have reportedly fired on humanitarian convoys and refugees. Local officials say at least 300 people died on March 16 when a Russian bomb struck a theater sheltering civilians from the airstrikes and artillery shelling.

Russia has reportedly prevented people from leaving Mariupol, allegedly sending them to Russia after confiscating their passports. According to Mariupol city authorities, as many as 15,000 residents have been forced either to Russia or Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.

In the cities that Russian forces have managed to control, such as Kherson and Melitopol, citizens have held defiant demonstrations against the occupation, waving Ukrainian flags and jeering at the soldiers.

These protests were largely unopposed, but videos have emerged showing protesters being beaten and troops using live rounds and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Melitopol’s mayor, Ivan Fedorov, was kidnapped by Russian forces. He was later released as a result of what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called a “special operation,” but several other Ukrainian mayors have been similarly kidnapped by Russian forces.

Scattered reports from all the Russian-occupied areas accuse Russian troops looting stores and stealing from civilians. In one case, a Russian soldier raped a woman after killing her husband, Newsweek reported. Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating.

As of March 23, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported a total of 2,571 confirmed civilian casualties in Ukraine, with 977 killed and 1,594 injured. Those estimates are widely regarded as low, given the difficulty of confirming casualties amid ongoing fighting.

On March 28 it was reported that Russian forces had become relatively static, apart from the area around Mariupol, where fierce fighting continues. Russian forces also reportedly made modest gains in Luhansk oblast.

Russian forces launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, with attacks on major cities, including the capital Kyiv and Kharkiv. So far Russian forces have made the most progress in the southern Kherson oblast, but they suffered reverses when trying to take the city of Mikolayev.