Hundreds of Russian soldiers return home from Ukraine in the form of ‘cargo 200’ (killed in action). However, more frequently the bodies are left in Donbas, in unmarked mass graves.
It is becoming more difficult for the Kremlin to control the flow of information about the Russian soldiers that have fallen in Ukraine. The Internet is literally overflowing with testaments made by their families: some have lost a husband; others a son or a father. As was the case in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Chechnya, it will be years before the truth about unmarked graves in Ukraine emerges. The same will not be the case in Donbas.
LIGABusinessInform has tried to investigate the number of Russian casualties in Putin’s war against Ukraine.
How many Russian battalions ‘got lost’ in Ukraine
No less than four battalion tactical groups of the Russian Armed Forces are engaged in combat on Ukrainian territory – this is the official data of the Ukrainian government. There are about 400-600 soldiers and officers in every BTG, besides reinforcements: armored equipment, artillery and air defense. LIGABusinessInform’s source in one of the law enforcement institutions adds that overall between 5 and 10 thousand Russian soldiers are involved in aggression against Ukraine, and are sometimes reinforced by invasive and fire support departments at the border. Russian soldiers also confirm a number of 10 thousand people.
The informal claims that many Russian soldiers who are being sent to Ukraine first find out about the real goal of their “training” when already on Ukrainian territory. During questioning, the detainees said that first the conscript soldiers are threatened and forced to sign contracts, then they are taken to Rostov oblast for training, and then thrown into Ukraine within a couple of days: “They threw us there like meat.” “Most frequently only officers know the truth. The rest have to carry out orders and not ask questions. Whether you want to or not, you are made to sign a contract and go to die in Ukraine,” says the source that participated in the questioning of the detained Russian paratroopers.
However, many servicemen go to war in Ukraine consciously. They post photos of their ‘heroics’ on their social media pages. What for and why, if the operations are secret – the answer lies in full view. The majority of the soldiers come from Russian villages in depressed Russian regions. They are “regular Russians” who do not comprehend the Kremlin’s cunning.
There are many posts online like these. Due to direct and indirect characteristics, we managed to identify Russian units and departments whose soldiers are fighting in Ukraine: the 17th motorized sniper brigade (Chechnya); the 18th motorized brigade (Chechnya); 22nd special purpose brigade (MIH, Aksay); 137th and 51st paratrooper regiments (106th paratrooper division); 331st paratrooper regiment (98th paratrooper division); 76th paratrooper division (Pskov); unit 35690 (“Sputnik” special purpose center of the Russian FSB); departments of the 106th paratrooper division (Riasan); 9th motorized brigade (Nizhny Novgorod); 31st paratrooper storm brigade (Ulyanovsk).
Instances and calculations of the numbers of deceased mercenaries, volunteers and regular Russian army soldiers
The coffin cargoes that went to Russia from Donbas were first heard of in May. But the first photographic evidence appeared only in June. ‘Cargo 200’ was documented by journalist Tatyana Turchenkova at the Ukraine-Russia border. She managed to identify several of the bodies. One of them is Sergey Zhdanovich, a retired instructor at the special FSB center.
However, back then we were talking mostly about volunteers and mercenaries who were enough to incite war in Ukraine. Russian servicemen calmly let through those who were willing to fight. The volunteers were given everything they needed, including weapons and armored equipment. However, in July the number of terrorists in Ukraine started decreasing dramatically. The Kremlin understood that irregular forces were unable to contain the Ukrainian army, which had freed almost all of Donbas.
On July 16 the first evidence that Russian Armed Forces had invaded Ukraine appeared. Starting that moment, Russian armored equipment with painted-over identification and unidentified soldiers started entering Ukraine in small columns. The regular Russian army had entered the war with Ukraine.
Ukrainian servicemen captured Russian military equipment that was ascribed to various Russian military units just the day before on a weekly basis. The arrested paratroopers explained how so-called ‘rebels’ are replaced by the regular Russian army, those who managed to survive in Ukraine and ended up as POW’s instead of burning together with their armored equipment under artillery and aviation fire.
“On the 17th we began loading the echelon. We got off near Rostov. We pained over the numbers, drew white circles. They told us there would be training. A white circle is a way of distinguishing us from others. When we understood we were in Ukraine already, we became scared. The machine was blown up. I understood it was not just training and marching,” said Ivan Romantsev, corporal of the 331st paratrooper regiment of the 98th Svir Guard paratrooper division (Kostroma).
Vladimir Putin claims that these paratroopers ended up in Ukraine “by accident.” Corporal Romantsev thinks that such propaganda in Russia “has nothing to do with reality.” “Ukraine is protecting its land,” says the soldier and adds that he does not believe in coincidences Putin is talking about: “Our entire regiment entered Ukraine. I think it is impossible to just get lost.” At the end of August Ivan and other arrested soldiers were exchanged for Ukrainian servicemen who had been taken prisoner by Russian mercenaries and troops. Ukrainian law enforcement later stated that the column Romantsev was talking about was attacked and almost completely destroyed by the artillery. A regiment in the Russian army is about 120 people.
Several other paratroopers from Russia were arrested near Ilovaisk, where Russian regular troops had earlier fired at a Ukrainian column which they had allegedly been supposed to let through on Putin’s orders. While the column exited, Russian POW’s were shot together with it. It is known for sure that among the detainees was the commander of the department Ruslan Akhmetov, unit 73612, 31st paratrooper storm brigade (Ulyanovsk). It remains unknown how many more Russian militants died. Ukrainian soldiers that managed to break out of the Russian army cauldron claim that the exit was closed by tanks that destroyed about 50 Russian soldiers.
Another instance of mass deaths of soldiers in Ukraine happened on August 13. The mother of one of the deceased, Yelena Tumanova, told Novaya Gazeta in an interview that she had found out the details of the death of her son Anton from his fellow soldiers. In short, according to them, the Russian army operation in Ukraine looked as follows: with two grenades per person and unprepared equipment the column entered Ukraine, ended up under Grad fire near Snizhne and returned a day later with severe losses: 120 corpses, 450 wounded.
Only the three given instances add up to 300 casualties among Russian servicemen.
Reports about dead Russian paratroopers started coming in one after the other. On September 1, Russian politician, coordinator of the war opposition block, founder of the group Cargo 200 Yelena Vasilyeva reported that about 15 trucks full of bodies returned from Ukraine to Russia. “The bodies of Russian soldiers are piled onto each other inside of them. The number varies depending on the sources between 800 and 1000 people. Where they took them is still unknown. Many of the wounded are in hospitals and clinics in Yeysk,” she reported.
According to Ukrainian military expert Dmytro Tymchuk, the Russian military hospital in Rostov “does not accept any more wounded – it is full to the limit.” He noted that the hospital only works with Russian regular soldiers. “The Russians are taking their wounded to St. Petersburg, but there are ‘no more beds left’ there either,” says he.
According to the advisor to the Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Danyliuik, throughout the entire duration of the Russian-Ukrainian war, about 2 thousand Russian army soldiers have died. According to a LIGABusinessInform source in the ATO forces, the confirmed numbers are somewhat different – about 500 soldiers and officers of the regular Russian army. But calculating the real number of bodies after artillery and aviation fire is practically impossible. The Russian General Headquarters knows the real number of their casualties. Naturally, they are keeping silent.
TVRain journalists dedicated a special project to the Russian soldiers that died in Ukraine, in which they gather verified information on those who have died. According to the journalists’ lists, 26 Russian soldiers died, were arrested or went missing in action. According to another project, lostivan.ru, there are more of those who died or went missing, about 50 people. Activists are also collecting data on the deceased on a Wikipedia page. According to their data, there are over 200 confirmed dead. There is a group on Facebook dedicated to the missing and the dead.
How many Russian citizens will turn out to be ‘missing in action’? The Russian Internet and social media constantly report on dead and wounded Russian soldiers. However, there is nothing on federal channels. It is easy to find an explanation. The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army without a declaration of war is a violation of the Russian constitution, for which Russian President Vladimir Putin should be deposed and handed over to the court. But this is following the law. Meanwhile losses of the Russian army continue growing in the war nobody has declared. Not all the bodies of the dead return to Russia; they are buried in unmarked mass graves in Ukraine as well. On September 2, according to the NSDC, the Russian commandment demanded that the local government of Krasniy Luch in Luhansk oblast provide land lots for the burial of the dead in order to prevent resonance in Russia.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina