FRANKFURT/KYIV: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has caused almost $1 trillion of damage, a Kyiv government official said Thursday, as the war batters the country's economy. In terms of "direct and indirect costs" Ukraine had suffered "somewhere close to $1 trillion" in damages, said Oleg Ustenko, economic advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky. The figure was equivalent to five times Ukraine's annual GDP before the invasion in February, Ustenko said at an event hosted by the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

The official previously estimated the damage caused by invading Russian forces in the first two weeks of the war totaled around $100 billion. The destruction and displacement as a result of the conflict was a "significant problem for public financing", Ustenko said.

Many businesses that had not been destroyed were "not working at full capacity or they are working just several hours a day", he said. "It means that the budget is going to receive much less compared with what was expected initially." Despite drastic cuts to government spending, the Ukrainian government was running a deficit of five billion euros ($4.9 billion) per month since the invasion, Ustenko said.

In 2023, Kyiv expected the gap to narrow to around 3.5 billion euros, he added. Allies have rushed to pump Ukraine with aid to fill the gap, with the World Bank, European Union and G7 countries pledging billions in cash. The Ukrainian government expected the economy to shrink by 35 to 40 percent this year, Ustenko said. The drop was the "deepest decline in our GDP that we have experienced since 1991" and the founding of the modern Ukrainian state, he added.

Russians flee

Dmitri flew to Armenia with just one small bag, leaving behind his wife and children, adding to the thousands fleeing Russia to avoid serving in the war against Ukraine. "I don't want to go to the war," he told AFP. "I don't want to die in this senseless war. This is a fratricidal war." Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision this week to mobilize several hundred thousand reservists has spurred a fresh exodus over the country's borders. "The situation in Russia would make anyone want to leave," said another new arrival, 44-year-old Sergei, who arrived with his teenage son.

Looking lost and exhausted in an Armenian airport, he confirmed that they had fled "because of the mobilization", but refused to give his full name. "We choose not to wait to be called up," said his 17-year-old son Nikolai. "I am not panicking, but I feel this uncertainty," he added.

It was a sentiment shared by other Russians arriving off the same flight to Yerevan. "It's wrong to go to war in the 21st century-to put it mildly," Alexei, 39, told AFP. He was not sure if he would ever be able return to Russia, he added. "It all depends on the situation."

'False information'

Military-aged men made up the majority of those arriving off the latest flight from Moscow. Many were reluctant to speak. Yerevan has become a major destination for Russians fleeing since war began on February 24. Since then, Armenia says at least 40,000 Russians have arrived in the small Caucasus country, once a part of the Soviet Union.

Nearly 50,000 Russians have fled to neighboring Georgia, national statistics from June showed.  The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed as "fake" reports that Russians eligible for mobilization were rushing for the exit. "A great deal of false information has emerged about this," said spokesman Dmitry Peskov. But flights out of Russia were nearly fully booked for the week ahead to cities in the nearby former Soviet countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

And Putin's call-up order did not just provoke a dash for the exit-there were protests too. Police arrested more than 1,300 people Wednesday at demonstrations against mobilization across Russia, according to one group monitoring protests, OVD-Info. On social networks, there were fears Russia would seal its borders. But Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said Thursday Russian deserters could "obtain international protection" in her country.

Finnish border authorities said Thursday they had seen an increase in traffic from Russia following Putin's announcement. But it stressed that the influx was still at relatively low levels. At the Vaalimaa border crossing in Finland, there was a line of cars about 150 metres long could be seen Thursday afternoon. "It was busy in the morning and at night, but now it's starting to calm down," Elias Laine, a border guard there told AFP.

A 23-year-old project manager from Moscow told AFP the mobilization had pushed forward his plans to leave Russia by October. "I'm eligible for the call-up," he explained. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday urged a probe into the "catalog of cruelty" in Ukraine's war as he opened a Security Council meeting with the top Russian and US diplomats. Reports from the United Nations rights body show "a catalog of cruelty-summary executions, sexual violence, torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment against civilians and prisoners of war," Guterres said.

"All these allegations must be thoroughly investigated, to ensure accountability," he said, without directly pointing the finger at Russia. "Perpetrators must be held to account in fair and independent judicial proceedings. Victims and their families have a right to justice, remedy and reparation." France, the current head of the Security Council, called the session on accountability in Ukraine during the UN General Assembly. - AFP