25.09.23 War Review

Graveyard Monitoring: The intensity of Russian military casualties in Ukraine has decreased in recent months

Following a bloody start to the year, the intensity of Russian military losses in Ukraine has decreased significantly in recent months, according to data from the BBC and 'Mediazona'. The BBC and ‘Mediazona’ believe that the 32,600 confirmed casualties in the war in Ukraine likely represent less than half of the actual number of Russian losses in the war. The monitoring data allows us to assess trends in casualty dynamics. In recent months, following the capture of Bakhmut and the Russian army's shift to defending occupied territories, the casualty rate has significantly decreased. The most intense losses occurred at the beginning of the year, with approximately 450 confirmed deaths per week. In April and May, this number decreased to 250, and during the summer months, it dropped to 150. Analysis of data on the confirmed deaths of mobilised soldiers, conducted by 'Important Stories' and the Conflict Intelligence Team, indicates that the most intense losses occurred in the first months after mobilisation was announced, when the troops were used to halt the Ukrainian advance near Svatove, and during the early months of 2023, when they were deployed in attempts to break through near Avdiivka.

Over the past year and a half of fighting in Ukraine, 32,656 frontline casualties have been identified, according to updated data from 'Mediazona' and the BBC, compiled using open source information. It is worth noting that, according to the estimates of the data journalists themselves, this figure likely captures only about half of the actual burials of soldiers on Russian territory. Further, it does not reflect data on casualties whose bodies have not been returned to Russia. Russian military personnel, especially officers, have often been accused of failing to return the bodies of the fallen from the battlefield. Moreover, a significant number of bodies of Russian soldiers were left on the battlefield during the chaotic retreat of the army from central Ukraine in the early months of the war. Therefore, it is highly likely that this figure represents less than 50% and possibly an even smaller portion of the actual losses.

Continuous monitoring by the BBC and 'Mediazona' has clearly indicated a downward trend in the intensity of casualties in recent months. The project recorded 1,021 deaths in August, 1,391 in July, 1,880 in June, and 1,919 in May. This trend emerged after the cessation of offensive fighting near Bakhmut when the Russian army began to focus on defending the occupied territories, sharply reducing the scale of casualties. If we focus on the deaths identified, in February-March, there were approximately 430 confirmed deaths per week, which decreased to 250 in April-May (the end of the fighting for Bakhmut), and dropped further to 150 by July.

Of the nearly 33,000 confirmed casualties, more than 2,500 were officers, accounting for approximately 8% of deaths. Of these, 301 held the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher. The highest number of confirmed losses occurred among motorised infantry units (2,795 individuals, with an increase of 257 over the summer) and the airborne forces (1,985 individuals, with an increase of 168 during the summer). In terms of regions with the highest number of casualties, Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, Rostov Oblasts, Bashkortostan, and Buryatia led the way in relation to their population sizes.

The distribution of casualties among different military groups has also changed. At the beginning of 2023, the main losses were among those affiliated with the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC). The BBC and 'Mediazona' project found that at least 1,691 PMC members died from March to May. However, during the summer, the number of confirmed deaths among PMC members decreased fivefold (352), with mobilised soldiers (910 individuals) and volunteers (533) taking the lead.

A joint investigation by 'Important Stories' and the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) presented data on the scale and dynamics of casualties among mobilised individuals on the anniversary of the announcement of mobilisation. They identified the names of 3,534 deceased mobilised individuals. Of this group, 20% were killed in the first two months following mobilisation, confirming that, in the autumn of 2022, mobilised individuals were hastily sent to the frontlines without proper training. Mobilised individuals were primarily used to plug the gaps in the frontlines around Svatove and Kreminna, according to the analysts at CIT (most of the appeals from mobilised soldiers protesting against being sent to the front without adequate training came from this area). 45% of confirmed deaths of mobilised individuals occurred within three to six months after the start of mobilisation, from about January to March, in line with the data of 'Mediazona'. The CIT analysts attribute the intensity of mobilised casualties during this period to attempts at an advance near Avdiivka, where mobilised individuals were transferred to support the DNR army, which used them as 'disposable assets' for breakthrough attempts. Another 20-25% of confirmed deaths occurred between seven and ten months following the start of mobilisation (approximately April to July).

According to the project's calculations, the average age of a deceased mobilised individual was 33 years old. The most significant loss for the Russian Armed Forces resulted from a Ukrainian attack on the Russian camp in Makeyevka on January 1, 2023, during which at least 139 mobilised individuals were killed (there are several other cases of mass casualties).

The scale of the 'special military operation' is indicated by the orders for certificates and documents issued by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. 'Verstka' has reported that the Ministry of Labour ordered 757,305 certificates for 'veterans of combat operations' and 230,000 certificates for 'family members of the deceased,' a total of almost one million certificates. Thus, estimates for the number of those who have taken part in the operation and the number of casualties have increased by a factor of 10 over the past year. Last year, the Ministry of Labour only ordered about 90,000 certificates: 82,840 for veterans and 5,777 for family members of the deceased.

The high adaptability of Russian society to news about the scale of these losses is one of the phenomena of this war. Despite the fact that the Ministry of Defence provides no information on this matter (as, indeed, does the Ukrainian side), the population is generally aware of the high casualty rate. However, this has not led to public mobilisation or shock.