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Unreliable at best What we know about Ukrainian and Russian casualties on day three of the invasion
Russia’s reporting on casualties
Three days into the war against Ukraine, Russia’s Defense Ministry has yet to report any losses, both in terms of military personnel and technical equipment. Russian state media outlets have also been silent on this front. Two anonymous sources — one at a major wire agency and one at a federal television channel — confirmed to Meduza that their newsrooms received a memo telling them to rely strictly on “official Russian state sources” in their reporting. These consist mostly of briefings held once per day by Russian Defense Ministry representative Igor Konashenkov. The journalists were also told not to cite any Ukrainian state sources, with an exception for announcements by the Ukrainian government about its own losses to Russian forces.
Another important feature of current news coverage at Russian state-controlled outlets (and some nominally independent ones) is that they do not call this war a war, and they repeatedly claim that the Russian army is “exclusively” attacking “military targets.” The federal censorship agency Roskomnadzor has demanded that several other independent media outlets stop using the word “war” and start citing “official Russian state sources” in their coverage, referring implicitly to briefings and press releases from the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry.
The contents of these briefings are telling. A typical Russian Defense Ministry press communication might look like the following: “14 military airfields, 19 communication and command nodes, 24 Zenit anti-aircraft rocket complexes, and 48 radar stations” have been struck (from a February 26 statement). There is no mention in these communications of destroyed civilian infrastructure, fatalities among Russian soldiers, or Ukrainian civilian deaths. The Russian government has also refrained from providing independent confirmation of any data it does give to the media.
Beyond the daily news, there is no reason to hope that Russian citizens will be informed about their war losses at any point in the foreseeable future. Even in peacetime, the Russian government tends to keep this data confidential, and the fact that Russia has not officially declared war against Ukraine will only increase that secrecy.
Ukraine’s reporting on casualties
Kyiv has been reporting on the war deaths of Ukrainian residents, albeit somewhat haphazardly. Typically, President Volodymyr Zelensky or Health Minister Viktor Lyashko have been the ones to issue this information. In a Facebook post from the morning of February 26, Lyashko wrote that 198 Ukrainians had been killed, and 1,115 more had been injured. He and other Ukrainian officials have not been differentiating between military and civilian deaths (with the exception of a February 25 statement in which Zelensky said 137 military personnel had been killed). Like Moscow, Kyiv has not issued any information about losses in equipment or weaponry.
In addition to the data Kyiv has provided on its own losses, Ukrainian media sources have cited a Tweet by the country’s Defense Ministry saying that in just one day of fighting, February 25, at least 1,000 Russian soldiers and officers were killed. On the morning of February 26, Zelensky added that throughout the current invasion, 3,500 Russian soldiers have been killed, and 200 more have been taken prisoner. These numbers are also unconfirmed by any independent source.
That same morning, February 26, the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ General Staff wrote that Moscow had lost 14 airplanes, eight helicopters, 102 tanks, and a few hundred other vehicles and pieces of equipment during the ongoing war.
What can we make of this information?
Rob Lee, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Meduza that it is extremely difficult to count losses accurately during the active phase of any military conflict.
When asked how accurate Kyiv’s count of Russian fatalities might be, Lee said that any approximate numbers at this stage are probably significantly distorted — with the possible exception of Kyiv’s reports about Ukraine’s own deaths, though these are also likely to be underestimated. Both sides, Lee said, have lost any real ability by now to keep a precise count of their dead, missing, and captured. The same goes for military equipment.
It is likely that there will be no accurate numbers on Russian or Ukrainian losses in this war until after it is over.
Translation by Hilah Kohen
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