August 18, 2022

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The Ukraine War in data: Counting Russian casualties — in the ‘fog of war’

The Ukraine War in data: Counting Russian casualties — in the ‘fog of war’

In the proverbial fog of war, among the hardest facts to nail down are assessments of casualties. Since the war in Ukraine began, Russian casualties in particular have been a source of both high interest and great confusion.

In a recent piece for Grid, Global Security reporter Joshua Keating quoted the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, who said, “Casualty reports on either side are never accurate, seldom truthful, and in most cases deliberately falsified.” Consider the disparity in data involving Russian losses in Ukraine: The Kremlin’s official public assessment still stands at 1,351. No analysts or observers we have spoken with believe that figure is correct — or even close to accurate.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is the Ukrainian “official” tally of Russian dead, which is updated often and was most recently given as 43,000. While the Ukrainians at least offer some documentation for their assessments, this is almost certainly an exaggerated number. As von Clausewitz would have noted, warring parties have their reasons for under- or overstating such figures.

The death toll for Russian fighters likely lies somewhere north of 15,000 to 20,000, although those numbers were first given by Western intelligence agencies some months ago; if they were even close to correct then, the total will likely be higher now.

Initially, attention to the Russian toll was pronounced because it came as such a surprise; many had believed the Russian army would prevail in short order. Even at the lower end of the Western estimates, the numbers suggest a casualty rate that far outpaces the Soviet losses in its long and bloody campaign in Afghanistan.

On the Ukrainian side, casualty estimates are, if anything, even murkier. Among other reasons, this has to do with the fact that it can be hard to separate civilian deaths from military deaths when the fighting is done on one’s home territory.

We keep all these things in mind as we gather our data; this week we also offer Keating’s deep-dive look behind those numbers — the methodology, politics and the battlefield impact. It’s Grid’s way of trying to clear away at least some of that “fog.”

Grid’s reporting is based on the best available data and reporting; in some cases, we explained a range of figures or the reason we chose one over another. We originally published this document on March 24 and will update it every Thursday as long as the war persists.

Civilians killed: at least 5,500 (probably thousands more)

On June 7, a Ukrainian official said at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed or wounded since the war began. The official offered no breakdown of dead versus wounded. The United Nations’ latest estimate of civilians killed is more than 5,500, but it consistently notes that the figure is an undercount, as is its estimate of total casualties — a combination of deaths and injuries — given as more than 13,000. (Updated Aug. 17; source.)

Ukrainian soldiers killed: 10,000 to 11,000

On June 10, top advisers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy estimated that 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began. U.S. intelligence officials have put the number at 5,500 to 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the invasion. Also on June 10, an adviser to Zelenskyy said Ukraine was losing as many as 200 soldiers each day. (Updated June 11; source, source.)

Russian soldiers killed: 1,351 to 43,000

Ukraine has raised its estimate of Russian soldiers killed in the conflict to 43,000, as Grid’s Josh Keating reported earlier this week. NATO has estimated Russian troop losses at between 7,000 and 15,000. Russian media outlets claimed 5,000 troop losses, though the last updated number of 1,351 deaths from the Russian Defense Ministry is from March. Spokesman Dimitry Peskov said there have been “significant losses of troops, and it’s a huge tragedy for us.” (Updated August 17; source, source, source.)

Russian generals killed: 8 to 13

A retired Russian general was reportedly shot down over Luhansk in late May — by Ukrainian counts the 13th Russian general to be killed in Ukraine. Previously, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that eight to 10 Russian generals had been killed in Ukraine. Grid’s Tom Nagorski and Joshua Keating previously reported on the possible explanations for this “inconceivable” toll: poor communications and command-and-control structures within the Russian military. (Updated May 25; source, source.)

Total displaced Ukrainians: at least 12 million

There are more than 6.4 million Ukrainian refugees reported in other European countries currently. United Nations data indicates more than 10 million Ukrainians have crossed the border since the start of the war, but millions have returned home, largely from Poland, as Nikhil Kumar and Kseniia Lisnycha reported. The International Organization for Migration’s latest survey of internally displaced Ukrainians, in late June, found more Ukrainians returning home from within Ukraine, but more than 6 million remained displaced within their own country. (Updated Aug. 17; source, source.)

Internally displaced Ukrainians: 6.6 million

An overview of the violence

Global food markets: Wheat prices decrease 11 percent since invasion, after weeks of fluctuation

Recent Grid coverage

Learn more: Grid’s 360s on the Ukraine War

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