Russian casualties in Ukraine. Mediazona investigation
Russian casualties in Ukraine. Mediazona investigation
26 April 2022, 0:38

Art: Maria Tolstova / Mediazona

Mediazona, working with a team of volunteers, reviewed more than 1,700 reports of casualties sustained by the Russian military in Ukraine. The official death toll reported by the Russian Ministry of Defence in late March is lower; actual numbers are, of course, significantly higher. Some conclusions:

  • The most combat-ready units (Airborne forces, Marines and the Special operations forces) lost at least 500 soldiers.
  • Heavy losses were sustained by Pskov and Kostroma Airborne units previously involved in fighting in Ukraine in 2014.
  • Over 300 officers have been confirmed dead. These included two Major Generals and a deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet.
  • Among those involved in combat were officers who generally have no role in waging war: over 70 Rosgvardiya (National Guard) personnel have been killed in action.
  • Preliminary death toll includes 20 fighter pilots and 7 helicopter pilots.
  • The majority of those killed were very young men from poorer regions of Russia. 69 of them were under 19 years of age; several were most likely conscripts.

There have been at least 1,744 reports of Russian military casualties since the start of the war, based on the data collected by Mediazona and a team of volunteers. We reviewed social media posts, mass media reports and state agencies' messages. We count Russian military personnel only, not Donetsk People's Militia and Luhansk People's Militia forces.

The scale of Russian troop losses is far more substantial because not all casualties are announced publicly by the press, relatives, local authorities, or educational institutions.

Russian authorities are extremely reluctant to disclose military casualties. The responsibility to report distressing news is traditionally relegated to various local authorities: governors, mayors, municipal or district administrations.

The Ministry of Defence disclosed casualties only twice, on March 2 and March 25, and acknowledged 498 and 1,351 personnel killed, respectively.

President Putin would always avoid the subject: he would talk about singular heroic deaths and announce payments to the families of the dead soldiers and officers but never mention overall casualty figures. His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in early April that Russia had suffered "significant" losses and called it a tragedy; he later had to clarify that he was referring to the then most recent figures from the Ministry of Defence.

The U.S. State Department estimated Russian losses at 10,000 by the end of March, without specifying whether these were casualties only or dead, wounded and prisoners of war combined; the methodology was not disclosed. As expected, Ukraine offers a higher estimate: the AFU General Staff claimed that the Russian army had lost more than 20,000 men by mid-April.

Our methodology relies on public records and does not indicate the actual number of military casualties in Ukraine. 1,744 is only marginally larger than the official figures from a month ago. But it does provide an insight into the Russian army's performance during the invasion.

Over 300 officers killed, of whom 44 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and above

The Russian army had lost as many as 317 officers since the beginning of the war, a third of them senior officers (Majors, Lieutenant Colonels, and Colonels). Almost every fifth reported casualty was an officer; this does not imply, however, that a fifth of all casualties were officers.

The high proportion of known officer casualties can have at least two non-contradictory explanations. One, as Samuel Crenney-Evans of Britain's Royal Institute for Defence and Security Studies told the BBC, is that fallen officers receive greater attention: their bodies are transported back home first, and losses tend to be reported publicly. Secondly, Crenney-Evans notes, Russian officers are generally more likely to engage in combat than their Western counterparts, for example, because "Russian army sergeants are mostly supposed to drive vehicles or follow orders, they do not command soldiers".

44 Lieutenant Colonels and higher killed in the war

As of today, only two deputy commanders of the armies have been officially confirmed as killed: Major General Andrey Sukhovetsky of the 41st Army and Major General Vladimir Frolov of the 8th Army. In addition, the deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Captain 1st rank Andrey Paliy, was killed. Both Russia and Ukraine failed to explain how the generals ended up under enemy fire in any of these cases.

Ukraine claims that three more generals were killed during this invasion: chief of staff of the 41st Army Vitaly Gerasimov (not to be confused with General Valery Gerasimov, of the Gerasimov Doctrine), commander of the 29th Army Andrey Kolesnikov, and commander of the 150th Motorised Rifle Division Oleg Mityayev. Moreover, there were reports of two Lieutenant Generals killed in action: commander of the 8th Army Andrey Mordvichev and commander of the 49th Army Yakov Rezantsev; these two were allegedly killed during an attack at the Chornobaivka airfield in Kherson region.

So far, neither Mediazona nor other journalists have been able to confirm the deaths of these officers. We have not listed these cases.

Airborne Forces suffered heavy losses around Kyiv; four Marine commanders killed in the East

Russian military also suffered heavy losses to the most combat-ready elite units: the Airborne forces (VDV), the Marines and the Special operations forces.

Most reports concern the VDV: at least 351 paratroopers have been killed since the beginning of the invasion. The 331st Guards Airborne Regiment of Kostroma suffered the heaviest losses: at least 49 men. According to data collected by the BBC, this regiment took part in the offensive on Kyiv where they got bogged down in fighting in the northern part of the region: in Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin. Among the fatalities were twelve officers and the regiment commander, 40-year-old Colonel Sergey Sukharev. A similar fate befell the renowned Pskov paratroopers in the Kyiv region: at least 40 men were killed in the decorated 76th Guards Air Assault Division. Sixteen of them were officers, of which three were Lieutenant Colonels: Aleksandr Okruzhnov, Artillery Chief of the 104th regiment, Viktor Kuzmin, Deputy Chief of Staff of the 234th regiment, and Yuri Agarkov (rank yet unknown).

The 11th Guards Air Assault Brigade from Ulan-Ude lost at least 24 men, among them deputy commander Denis Glebov. Another fifteen of the dead soldiers served in the 247th Guards Airborne Assault Cossack Regiment from Stavropol region. The regiment also lost its commander, 38-year-old Colonel Konstantin Zizievsky, as well as four other officers, including the commander of an airborne assault platoon and the commander of a reconnaissance unit.

According to experts interviewed by the BBC, commanders often use paratroopers to fulfil objectives that could equally be assigned to standard infantry; but of all the units of the Russian Army it is the Airborne forces that are the most combat-ready. Both Pskov and Kostroma paratroopers had already been involved in fighting during the war in Donbass in 2014. At the time, this fact was concealed: captured soldiers were reported by the Ministry of Defence as having “gotten lost”, as having somehow ended up in Ukraine, or as having resigned and gone to fight “of their own free will”, while the dead were buried in secret.

Mariupol, another city crucial to Russia, was stormed by the Marines, of which at least 91 died. Alexey Sharov, 42, commander of the 810th Separate Guards Marine Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet, and nineteen of his subordinates were among the fatalities. Captain 1st Rank Andrey Paliy, Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, was also killed near Mariupol. In addition, since the start of the invasion, 45 Spetsnaz servicemen of various units of the Russian armed forces have been killed. Twenty-five of them are confirmed to have served in the GRU, while eleven of them served in the 22nd Separate Guards Brigade of the Special Services.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexey Kryukov of the FSB, believed to have served in the FSB Alfa Central Intelligence Service, was also killed.

Twenty warplane pilots and seven helicopter pilots are known to have been killed. There are likewise pilots among those captured.

The loss of pilots is particularly painful for the army: it takes 7–8 years to train one first-class frontline pilot, and costs about $3.4 million. The loss of each pilot also means the loss of expensive equipment. According to OSINT project Oryx, over sixty days at war Russia lost twelve Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters – this could account for up to 10% of the entire fleet. A single Ka-52 costs 857 million roubles. Ukrainian forces also managed to shoot down seven supersonic Su-34 fighter-bombers, each worth over a billion rubles. In the early days of the war the Russian Defence Ministry claimed that Ukraine's air defence had been almost totally destroyed.

There are also those, among the dead, who were not part of the Armed Forces at all. At least five policemen and 78 members of the National Guard (Rosgvardiya) were killed. Fifteen of them were members of the OMON riot police force, whose objective is to suppress protests and to aid in searches and detentions, as opposed to fighting abroad. Another fifteen of the fatalities were from the Internal Troops Special Forces, and six were from the SOBR. In late February and early March, columns of riot police and SOBR were destroyed near Kyiv and Kharkiv.

Fatalities among Motorised Rifle and Tank forces tended to serve in various units. Only the 37th Independent Guards Motorised Rifle Brigade (which suffered at least 22 casualties) and the 5th Independent Guards Tank Brigade (at least 23 casualties) stand out in this regard. Both are stationed in Buryatia.

Heavy losses in the first days of the invasion

The date of the deaths is provided in some 700 reports. The number of casualties per day according to this data is a poor reflection of the real picture, but it does suggest which days saw the most intensive fighting.

According to this data, the Russian army had already suffered serious losses on the very first day of the war, when it tried to advance in several directions at once, including towards Kyiv. Later, when Russian troops withdrew from the area, the Defence Ministry began to deny plans to seize the Ukrainian capital and to refer to these actions as "restraining" the AFU.

The Russian army also suffered heavy losses on the 12th March, most likely during active fighting in Mariupol.

It is the young and the poor who are dying

The majority of fatalities are servicemen from poor regions. The republics that have suffered the highest losses are Dagestan and Buryatia, where the average wage barely exceeds 20 thousand roubles. The large number of deaths can be explained not only by the demographics and low wages of the two republics, but also by their particular attitudes toward military service.

Citizens of Moscow and Saint Petersburg (where more than 12% of Russia's population live) are virtually absent from the reports.

Nearly 1000 reports mention the age of the deceased; the 21-23 year-old group saw the highest number of deaths. 69 of the soldiers were under the age of 20, and thirteen of them had barely reached 18. There are also conscripts among the dead; the last of such reports emerged when the missile cruiser "Moskva" sunk in the Black Sea.

20-year-old Pavel Pozanen was killed near Kharkiv; his mother told journalists that the young man had been illegally contracted and the case had already been reviewed by the military prosecutor's office. Two other dead servicemen, 18-year-old Denis Yaroslavtsev from Bashkiria and 19-year-old Aleksandr Bobrov from the Altai krai, were drafted in late November of 2021 and by the start of the war had barely served the three months required for a contract.

At the start of March Vladimir Putin announced that only professional soldiers were being sent to serve, not conscripts. Quite literally the next day, the Defence Ministry admitted that it had discovered "several instances" of consripts having been sent to battle. The Ministry asserted that by then most of them were already back on Russian territory. However, both Bobrov and Yaroslavtsev died in early April, a month after the Defence Ministry's assurances.

The Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly said that the Russians refuse to let the bodies of soldiers be collected. It is unclear whether the situation has since changed or whether many remain unburied.

It is clear from the data that there is sometimes a considerable amount of time between reported deaths and subsequent funerals, often roughly two weeks.

We are continuing to collect data on deceased military personnel. If you come across reports of this kind, please send links to them to the bot on Telegram: @add24bot. Instructions for contacting Mediazona (anonymously if needed) can be found here.

Translation: Lily Samarine and Sergey Golubev

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