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(Yonhap Interview) Ukraine PM says Russia has created world's largest mine field in Ukraine

Interviews 06:00 January 08, 2023

By Jo Sung-heum and Lee Haye-ah

KYIV, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Russia has created the world's largest mine field in his country and Ukraine is doing everything it can to quickly end the war as he spoke in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

In an exclusive interview with Yonhap at the government complex in Kyiv on Thursday, Shmyhal denounced Russia's atrocities in invading his country and voiced confidence about ending the war by completely reclaiming Ukraine's territory.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal (EPA-Yonhap)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal (EPA-Yonhap)

Ukraine has a parliamentary-presidential system. Shmyhal was appointed by the presidential mono-majority in parliament and is part of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's team. As the head of government, he oversees the executive branch.

It was the first time Shmyhal has conducted an interview with an Asian news outlet following the start of the war with Russia. It was also the first exclusive interview for an Asian media outlet in more than 2 1/2 years in office.

Shmyhal said the economic cooperation partnership between Ukraine and South Korea is continuing to develop, and that he hopes for cooperation with South Korea on post-war national reconstruction projects and in the auto industry.

"According to the government's plan, we are interested in building a plant for the production of electric cars in Ukraine and would like to do it in cooperation with South Korea. Ukrainians want to buy high-quality electric cars, and we strive to meet this growing demand," he said.

"I also look forward to receiving a lot of help from South Korea with its rich experience, skills and equipment in demining work."

The prime minister said the war has led to the creation of a 250,000-square-kilometer mine field in Ukraine.

"It's currently the largest mine field in the world," he said. "It's not only making it difficult for people to travel, but also causing major disruptions in farming, which is one of our main industries."

The mine field's size -- 250,000 square kilometers -- is larger than not only the entire Korean Peninsula (around 221,000 square kilometers), but also Laos, Romania (each around 238,000 square kilometers) and Britain (around 244,000 square kilometers).

Even without mines inflicting indiscriminate damage, civilian areas are being hit the hardest by the war.

"Russia is targeting infrastructure in heavily populated areas," Shmyhal said, noting 70 percent of the damage has been borne by residential neighborhoods.

Industrial complexes, such as chemical compounds and steel plants, and travel infrastructure, have been some of the other targeted sites, he said.

Ukraine has suffered enormous economic damage from the war. Last year, the country's gross domestic product fell 30.4 percent from 2021, and, as of the beginning of June 2022, according to the World Bank, total economic losses had amounted to US$350 billion.

Shmyhal predicts the total loss from the war will snowball to $700 billion this year.

"Despite the war, the Ukrainian economy is working. The government pays all salaries and pensions without delay. We are developing grant programs for small and medium-sized businesses," the prime minister said.

The lives of the Ukrainian people are being irretrievably destroyed.

Shmyhal said 50 percent of the country's power grids have been damaged in the 11 mass air raids and 14 waves of drone attacks since October.

"There is not a single power plant that has not been hit by Russian missiles or drones," he said. "Russia's goal is to eliminate all of Ukraine's power grids and to force our people to flee by putting psychological pressure on them."

On concerns that the war is being prolonged, Shmyhal emphasized the need to keep sanctions on Russia and assist Ukraine.

"We're doing everything we can to quickly end the war," he said. "For this, the international community must strictly keep sanctions on Russia and strengthen them."

He especially cited the importance of sanctions on gas and oil trade, and blocking supplies of weapons and parts to Russia, saying all global companies should withdraw from Russia.

He also claimed it was illegal for Russia to inherit its status from the former Soviet Union as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and demanded that Russia be expelled from all international organizations.

He additionally called for financial assistance to help Ukraine get through the winter and restore its electric power, road and water networks.

"We don't know when the war will end, but it's certain that we will reclaim all of our land," Shmyhal said.

"In order to win, sanctions are important, but ultimately it has to be with the help of weapons support," he added, requesting a constant supply of advanced weaponry.

Shmyhal did not disclose the areas Ukraine plans to reclaim or its detailed strategy, but he made clear it will not rush operations at the cost of human casualties.

"Unlike Russia, we come up first with strategies to protect people," he said. "Since the start of the war, we have reclaimed 54 percent of the territory taken by Russia, and we will continue to be able to recover the occupied land this winter or at any time."

Shmyhal added, "Reclaiming our territory is important, but so is reinforcing the rear of the front lines in order to keep the reclaimed territory.

"We're paying close attention to that as part of our strategy to reclaim our land," he said.

Shmyhal recalled he spoke by phone with South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo at the end of last year, and reiterated his thanks for the support of the South Korean government and people.

"I am well aware that South Korea is joining forces with Ukraine and going in the same direction," he said. "I'm also deeply grateful for the large humanitarian assistance extended to us."

The South Korean government has so far provided $100 million in assistance for Ukraine.

josh@yna.co.kr

hague@yna.co.kr
(END)

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