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At least 50,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine, media probe finds

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

More than 50,000 Russian soldiers have died since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago. That figure is according to a report from BBC Russia and the now-banished independent Russian news outlet Mediazona. The Kremlin's only public acknowledgment of its troop casualties came more than a year ago. It put that number at around 6,000, a figure that was immediately disputed. Mika Golubovsky is an editor with Mediazona and helped with the investigation. He's based in Vilnius, Lithuania. Mika, so what sources did you use to determine the number of Russian casualties from fighting in Ukraine?

MIKA GOLUBOVSKY: Hi. Yeah, our three main sources are social media posts and official news items on the internet. That's one. Pictures from cemeteries of graves of fallen soldiers. These pictures are collected by volunteers on the ground. And some databases, official government databases, like the probate registry, for instance.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so what do the trends tell you then about Russia's combat strategy over that time?

GOLUBOVSKY: Well, we've been tracking casualties for two years now. And you can really clearly see in the data how the tactics changed, because first, in the first weeks of the invasion, it was mostly casualties among professional military units like airborne units or Marines, that kind of stuff. Then came casualties - higher casualties among volunteers.

Then, starting from the autumn of 2022, huge numbers of casualties of inmates that were recruited by Wagner Group, the infamous PMC. And a lot of casualties of mobilized soldiers from December because in late September of 2022, a partial - so-called partial mobilization started in Russia. And approximately two months after that, we started seeing big, huge casualties among the mobilized soldiers.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the 50,000 dead are Russian casualties that your organization has confirmed. And actually, your organization suspects the number could be twice as high. Why?

GOLUBOVSKY: Yeah, well, the 50,000, we know all of them by name, right?

MARTÍNEZ: Wow, OK.

GOLUBOVSKY: And we confirmed their names. And obviously, from the very start we understood that that's not everyone, every Russian soldier that died, because not all are reported. Not all cemeteries could be visited by volunteers and so on. We did, together with another independent news outlet, Meduza, we came up with a methodology to estimate the overall amount based on the probate registry. And that gives a number of approximately twice more than 50,000.

MARTÍNEZ: Really quick, one last thing. Has there been any reaction from Russian officials to your data or from citizens inside Russia?

GOLUBOVSKY: Well, the citizens, they, you know, support us with information about casualties and read our updates.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

GOLUBOVSKY: And the government just keeps silent and sometimes bans information about casualties. That's it.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Mika Golubovsky is an editor with Mediazona, an independent news outlet banished from Russia. Mika, thank you very much.

GOLUBOVSKY: Thank you.

MARTÍNEZ: We asked for comment from the Russian embassy in the U.S. but have not heard back.

(SOUNDBITE OF NILS FRAHM'S "O I END") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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