Mediazona, working with BBC News Russian service and a team of volunteers, continues to collect data about the casualties sustained by the Russian military in Ukraine. These numbers do not represent the actual death toll since we can only review publicly available reports—including social media posts by relatives, reports in local media, and statements of the local authorities. Also, the number of soldiers missing in action or captured is unknown.
However, even this limited data can reveal what has been happening to the Russian army over the course of this invasion.
The Ministry of Defence disclosed casualties only twice, on March 2 and March 25, and acknowledged 498 and 1,351 personnel killed, respectively. Just before this update, on June 1, the chairman of the Duma Defence Committee claimed that Russia had practically ceased suffering any new casualties due to changed tactics.
Most of those killed in action come from the so-called ‘ethnic republics’, with Dagestan and Buryatia leading the way. In Buryatia, the dead are buried almost every day.
This can have several possible explanations. Demographics, distinct attitude towards military service, large number of military units located in these regions, low wages and unemployment rate all count towards making the army appealing to young men.
Most reports about soldier deaths are coming from the poorer regions: the average wage there is lower than the Russian median wage. Moscow and Saint Petersburg representing over 12% of the country’s population are almost never mentioned in those reports.
By mid-July, confirmed Russian army casualties in Ukraine exceeded those sustained during the three years of the Second Chechen war. According to official estimates by the Ministry of Defence, between October 1999 and December 2002 the ‘federal troops’ lost 4,572 people.
Volunteer fighters’ death count continues to rise with confirmed casualties already exceeding those of the tank troops (which, of course, does not imply that more of them have been killed than tank crews). The BBC has reported that volunteers are being recruited and sent to the battlefield without proper training.
Of the 5 185 casualties reported, about 879 cases are 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.”
By July 29, at least 100 officers of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and above had been killed in action. 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. Another Major General, Roman Kutuzov, was reported dead on June 5; deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Captain 1st Rank Andrey Paliy, is also among the casualties.
Retired Major General Kanamat Botashev, a fighter jet pilot, 63, was killed; he most likely joined the fight as a volunteer.
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 943 dead since the beginning of the invasion) and Marines (at least 202 dead).
63 military 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.
There are also those, among the dead, who were not part of the Armed Forces at all: at least 206 servicemen of the National Guard (Rosgvardiya) were killed.
The date of the deaths is provided in some 3 174 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 in the very first weeks 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.
Nearly 4 000 reports mention the age of the deceased; the 21–23 year-old group saw the highest number of deaths. 125 of the soldiers were under the age of 20, and 25 of them had barely reached 18.
Volunteer fighters are considerably older: generally, these men are aged 35 and over.
In early 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.