It’s almost impossible to learn the exact number of casualties the Russians have suffered thus far in their war on Ukraine. The war is not going as expected for them, and the Kremlin keeps the exact numbers of its dead soldiers close to their vest. It is Putin’s attempt to appease his people and retain a firm grip on the reigns of control.

There exist, however, reliable estimates of combat losses.

Russian Combat Losses

The US intelligence community has conservatively estimated that more than 7,000 Russian warfighters have died in Ukraine since they invaded that country in late February. If that is the case, it is greater than the number of Russian soldiers killed in the first two years of the Chechen war.

On the Ukrainian side, they estimate that they have killed more than 15,000 Russian invaders in the first month of the war. If this is the case, it rivals the number of losses the Soviets took in their decade-long campaign in Afghanistan. That war, of course, saw Ivan withdraw from the country defeated, only to witness the fall of the Soviet Union shortly after that.

When we factor in the number of Russian troops who have been injured, captured, or have gone missing in action (in addition to those killed in action), NATO estimates that figure to be close to 40,000. Those are some hefty losses for only a little over one month of combat operations.

Where are all the bodies?

For the sake of argument, assume the Russians have suffered 7,000 KIA (killed in action) to date. That’s a lot of bodies. Where did they all go? If an American warfighter dies in a conflict, we make every effort to get their remains back home. The same cannot be said for the Russians.

A mobile Russian crematorium used to incinerate war dead.
A mobile Russian crematorium used to incinerate war dead. (Youtube/zaoTurmalin/New York Post)

Ukrainian President Zelensky informed his people early in the conflict that Russian troops had brought mobile cremation chambers with them as part of their assault on his nation. They would presumably be used to dispose of their dead on site to keep the actual number of troops killed a secret from the world.

“These guys are carrying those cremation chambers for themselves,” Zelensky noted at a press conference in Kyiv. During that same press conference, he called the inexperienced Russian troops “cannon fodder” and said of the onsite cremation process, “it’s inhumane.”

Regarding the bodies of the fallen, Zelensky stated that “No one is counting them. No one cares how many die in the shellings.”  

“They knew in advance they were not going to show to their families, to their mothers, what happened to their children, that they died here,” he went on. “They came here to kill us, and we are defending our freedom and our homes, and that’s why they’re dying. We don’t want to kill them.”

Using crematoriums also means the Russians can fudge identifying the bodies for the families.  In the prior invasion of Ukraine’s Eastern regions, hundreds of Russian soldiers lie in unmarked graves in the country in order to avoid public funerals by their families in Russia.

Putin is saying in public that the families of dead service members will be paid an amount equivalent to about $100,000 US for family members killed in the fighting, along with a monthly stipend

This photo of a dead Russian soldier, his face obscured by snow, illustrates the anonymous nature of their many war dead. (CNN)

Clarifying the Kremlin Cover-up

In Russia, censorship of the war has been taken to an extreme, with a new law criminalizing any reporting that contradicts the official message of the Kremlin. Even if the Kremlin isn’t releasing the real numbers of its dead troops to their people, there are Ukrainians who are trying to do so.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs publishes photos of fallen soldiers and captured Russian troops. Photos of ID cards alongside the bodies are included when possible. The site is 200rf.com. This name is a nod to Cargo 200 (or Gruz-200), which is what the Soviets called the zinc lines boxes used to transport bodies home from their losing effort in Afghanistan.

The creator and coordinator of the channel (also known as “Look for Your Own”) is a man named Viktor Andrusiv, an adviser to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Minister.

Reaching Out to the Families

Andrusiv says he launched the initiative to help Russian families track down information about their soldiers. “We are not making war against the Russian people. And I don’t think they should suffer because of their regime, which lies to them and says everything is good, no one is dying,” he said during an interview with CNN. “It’s a way for us to bring them some truth.”

And that bit of truth in recognizing the casualties of war is needed more now than ever, in a world where murderous heads of state vaporize the remains of young men killed in combat, carrying out their orders.

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