About 47,000 Russian soldiers died during the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine

Flowers on a tombstone in a graveyard. Image by Julia Kadel on Unsplash. Used under an Unsplash license.

According to a collaborative investigation conducted by Meduza, Mediazona, and statistician Dmitry Kobak from Tubingen University, the true number of Russian soldiers killed in the invasion of Ukraine is approximately 47,000. This estimate is based on an analysis of published obituaries, mortality data from the Federal State Statistics Service, and extensive records from the National Probate Registry. By examining these sources, the researchers estimated that between 40,000 and 55,000 Russian men under the age of 50 died in combat in Ukraine by May 27, 2023. When factoring in seriously wounded soldiers who did not return to military service, the total casualty count for Russia rises to at least 125,000 soldiers.

The significance of these numbers becomes apparent when comparing them to previous conflicts. In just 15 months of fighting in Ukraine, three times more Russian soldiers have died than Soviet troops did over 10 years in Afghanistan. Additionally, the death toll in Ukraine is nine times higher than the casualties in the first RussianChechen War from 1994 to 1996. These figures highlight not only the high number of lives lost in Vladimir Putin's aggressive war but also the authorities’ deliberate efforts to conceal the true costs of the invasion from the Russian public.

The Russian government has classified information about casualties, and revealing the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine on social media can lead to prosecution by Russian police. The Defense Ministry has not provided updated casualty figures since September 2022 when they claimed that only 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed up until that point in the “special military operation.” However, given the nature of war, it is unlikely that the Russian military's own casualty figures can be accepted as accurate, as each side tends to exaggerate the enemy's losses while downplaying their own.

The most reliable public information about Russia's losses in the war comes from a database created by independent monitors working with journalists at Mediazona and the BBC. This database tracks combat deaths mentioned in local news outlets and on social media. As of now, the database shows nearly 27,000 Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. However, this number represents only a fraction of the total casualties, as many deaths go unreported due to various reasons such as fear of prosecution, the involvement of foreign nationals fighting in the Russian military, and the release of prison inmates to fight in Ukraine.

To provide a more accurate estimate, the investigative journalists from Meduza and Mediazona obtained access to a restricted but non-classified database of inheritance cases. By comparing trends in this database with publicly available demographics and previous reporting on obituaries, they were able to estimate the total number of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine as of late May 2023 to be approximately 47,000. The database covers over 11 million individual cases since 2014, and although it is not comprehensive, the large sample size makes the data representative and reliable for this analysis.

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