Skip to main content
  • Share to or

120,000 dead and counting A new estimate from Meduza and Mediazona shows the rate of Russian military deaths in Ukraine is only growing

Source: Meduza

In the latest update to their list of confirmed Russian military deaths, Mediazona and BBC News Russian reported that at least 56,585 Russian soldiers have died fighting in Ukraine as of June 21. However, this list only includes soldiers whose deaths could be individually corroborated through open sources such as obituaries. In a previous investigation, Meduza and Mediazona used inheritance case data to estimate Russia’s losses and determined that 75,000 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine as of the end of 2023. But collecting and analyzing data from the National Probate Registry takes significant time and resources, and this means that our true mortality estimates come much less frequently than our colleagues’ updates to the list of confirmed deaths. To address this problem, we’ve devised a new method for estimating Russia’s true military death toll at any given time with a reasonably high level of accuracy. These “flash estimates” will now accompany updates to Mediazona and BBC Russian’s confirmed deaths list as well as Meduza’s own reports on casualties. According to our latest calculations, as of the end of June, approximately 120,000 Russian servicemen have died in the war since 2022, but the real number could be as high as 140,000.

Since the start of the full-scale war, journalists from Mediazona and BBC News Russian have been working with a team of volunteers to compile data on the number of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. Their main sources of information are obituaries published by local authorities, schools, or relatives; funeral announcements; and photos from burial sites. The team does their best to ensure the list includes as many deaths as possible, but their criteria are stringent: for a death to be added to the list, there must be clear evidence that the person in question was a Russian soldier and that his death was related to the war. This list is essential for analyzing the war, but it doesn’t reflect the total number of Russian military deaths, since there isn’t open-source information about every Russian soldier who’s died.

Data from Russia’s National Probate Registry can help us get a more accurate estimate of the true number of Russia’s military dead. This registry publicly records inheritance cases opened in Russia so that potential inheritors will know when there’s an opportunity for them to claim property. While the odds of a death being recorded in the Probate Registry vary by age groups and economic status, inheritance cases are opened for a significant portion — more than 70 percent — of all deaths in Russia. It’s also important to note that more than 90 percent of inheritance claims in Russia are filed within six months of the person’s death, presumably because inheritors who wait longer are required to through the court system. As a result, the Probate Registry provides fairly comprehensive statistics for periods more than six months ago.

What the mortality data shows

Double the dead Federal mortality data suggests at least 64,000 Russian soldiers have died fighting in Ukraine

What the mortality data shows

Double the dead Federal mortality data suggests at least 64,000 Russian soldiers have died fighting in Ukraine

The most complicated part of interpreting Probate Registry data is converting data about the number of inheritance cases filed into data about the actual mortality rate. To this end, Meduza’s analysts have developed a method that:

  • Compares inheritance cases to soldiers’ deaths confirmed by Mediazona
  • Takes into account the varying probabilities of an inheritance case being opened for people of different ages
  • Takes into account the varying probabilities of opening an inheritance case for people in different kinds of military formations (including convicts)
  • Compensates for the lower likelihood of inheritance cases being opened for soldiers who have died in the last six months
  • Takes into account the varying rates of inheritance cases opened for men and women, as well as long-term trends, when calculating excess mortality

This method allows us to calculate excess male mortality for mid- and late 2022, and the result falls within the margin of error of the numbers later calculated based on Russia’s official annual mortality data (which we didn’t have access to when we did these calculations).

Our new ‘flash estimate’

Calculations based on Probate Registry data require a lot of time for data collection and analysis and, as a result, lag significantly behind the collection of obituary and burial data. For this reason, in addition to our work with inheritance records, we’ve developed a method for producing a flash estimate of losses that can be updated on a weekly basis.

This flash estimate is based on past data on military deaths obtained using our method that uses Probate Registry data (within this work, we consider the Probate Registry-based figures to be true, as they’ve repeatedly been corroborated by other data such as internal Wagner Group financial documents), as well as on the current length and makeup of the confirmed deaths list. Our flash estimates use a mathematical model that takes into account the age distribution of newly discovered deaths and the known probabilities of soldiers of different ages appearing on the confirmed deaths list.

This model predicts the total cumulative number of deaths in various age cohorts up to the present, rather than their distribution on a week-to-week basis. This limitation is due to delays in the appearance of soldiers on the confirmed deaths list; it takes time for volunteers to find and verify each death. While more than 80 percent of the people on this list have been added within 100 days of their deaths, sometimes the delay can be as long as a few years.

Meduza has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from the very start, and we are committed to reporting objectively on a war we firmly oppose. Join Meduza in its mission to challenge the Kremlin’s censorship with the truth. Donate today

The underreporting caused by these delays is difficult to account for and compensate for; unlike with the Probate Registry data, there’s no deadline for discovering new deaths. If we distribute the total number of deaths by week according to the death dates (in cases where they’re known), the delays will lead to us overcounting far in the past and undercounting in the near future. But if we’re only calculating the total number of deaths, rather than weekly figures, the delays don’t make a significant difference — at least until the volunteers’ methodology or the social makeup of the dead soldiers changes.

This is why we call the result a “flash estimate” — it works well in the short term, but needs regular adjustments over time based on more reliable data, such as inheritance cases.

Over 200 deaths per day

At the end of 2023, we estimated from Probate Registry data that Russia had had about 75,000 military deaths (within a rather wide range of 66,000 to 88,000). A recent alternative count based on Russia’s official all-cause mortality data (published last week) yields an estimate of 64,000 deaths for the same period.

The discrepancy could be due to us overestimating deaths among older age groups (the main source of uncertainty in our method) or an undercount in the mortality data: the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, or Rosstat, may have excluded some “military” deaths from this dataset and instead included them in the statistics for Ukraine’s annexed territories.

The first two years

At least 75,000 dead Russian soldiers Meduza calculates that Moscow loses 120 men per day in Ukraine, and the rate isn’t slowing after two years of war

The first two years

At least 75,000 dead Russian soldiers Meduza calculates that Moscow loses 120 men per day in Ukraine, and the rate isn’t slowing after two years of war

There are other reasons to believe that our estimate based on Probate Registry data might be closer to the true number of deaths: judging by recently-leaked Wagner Group financial documents, our prediction of the total number of soldiers recruited by Yevgeny Prigozhin who were killed was quite accurate. This indicates that the overall mortality estimate obtained by this method should be fairly reliable.

In any case, our estimate suggests that since the beginning of 2024 — or, more precisely, in the 173 days between the two estimates — the Russian military’s losses have increased by 39,000 (or between 34,000 and 46,000). Even if we take the minimum possible value, these figures are substantial; they show that Russia’s losses have risen significantly in recent months. This is nearly double the average casualty rate observed in the last three months of 2023. At that time, we estimated it at about 120 deaths per day, whereas right now there are about 200—250 deaths per day.

The difference in daily casualty rates reflects the development of Russia’s large-scale offensive. It began last winter with the battle for Avdiivka and continued after the city’s capture by Russian forces in February, with further attacks across the entire front. Because of the time it takes to find and verify individual deaths, we don’t know how this rate has changed in the last few weeks, but Russia’s total number of recent losses undoubtedly exceeds even those from the Battle of Bakhmut, where about 21,000 soldiers were estimated to have died.

Sign up for Meduza’s daily newsletter

A digest of Russia’s investigative reports and news analysis. If it matters, we summarize it.

Protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

  • Share to or