Over 66,000 Ukrainian Men Returned From Abroad to Defend Country: Ministry

More than 66,000 Ukrainian men returned from abroad to defend their country as Russia continues its invasion on Saturday, according to a Ukrainian official.

Russia began its invasion last month, following months of heightened tensions between the two countries. The invasion forced many Ukrainian citizens to step up to defend their home—many by joining the military and fighting on the frontlines.

But according to Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's minister of defense, at least 66,224 Ukrainian men who were living abroad before the invasion will also be joining the fight.

"66224," Reznikov tweeted early Saturday morning. "That's how many men returned from abroad at this moment to defend their Country from the horde. These are 12 more combat and motivated brigades! Ukrainians, we are invincible! #FightLikeUkrainian."

The war has so far cost the lives of hundreds of soldiers from both countries, though the exact number of deaths remains disputed. Russia said Wednesday that 498 Russian soldiers have died, while another 1,597 have been injured since the invasion began, Reuters reported. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, however, has said that at least 9,000 Russian troops have been killed.

Ukraine places their number of soldier deaths below 500, while Russia claims that more than 2,870 Ukrainian troops have been killed so far.

Meanwhile, at least 351 civilians—including children—have been killed in Ukraine, according to a report by the United Nations, with 700 other civilians suffering injuries. Ukraine, meanwhile, place the number of deaths so far at more than 2,000.

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned other countries that if they declared a no-fly zone over Ukraine, he would view them as participating in the armed conflict, adding that it would "pose a threat to our service members."

"That very second, we will view them as participants of the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are," he said during a meeting with pilots, according to the Associated Press. He also denounced sanctions as "akin to a declaration of war" and warned that Ukraine could lose statehood if they continue to fight back.

Meanwhile, Zelensky criticized the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) for not imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, accusing them of giving Russia a "green light" to continue bombing Ukrainian cities.

On Saturday, Russia announced a temporary cease-fire in two areas of Ukraine to allow civilians to evacuate. It began at 9 a.m. local time, allowing people to leave the port of Mariupol and the eastern town of Volnovakha. However, evacuations were halted after Ukraine accused Russia of shelling and firing at Mariupol.

Ukrainians abroad return to defend country
More than 66,000 Ukrainians living abroad returned to defend Ukraine against Russia. Above, Ukrainian servicemen are seen in Kyiv on February 25. Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images