U.S. officials say Ukrainian and Russian military casualties have totaled nearly half a million casualties since the war in Ukraine began 18 months ago, a staggering number as Russia attacks its neighbor and tries to seize more territory.
Officials warned that estimating the death toll remains difficult, as Moscow is believed to have routinely underestimated war casualties and Kiev has not released official figures. But they say the carnage in eastern Ukraine has intensified this year and remains ongoing as the nearly three-month-long counteroffensive continues.
The number of Russian military casualties stood at about 300,000, officials said. This includes up to 120,000 dead and 170,000 to 180,000 wounded soldiers. Russia's toll dwarfs that of Ukraine, where nearly 70,000 people were killed and between 100,000 and 120,000 injured, according to official figures.
But on the battlefield, Russians outnumber Ukrainians almost three to one, and Russia has a larger population to cover its ranks.
Ukraine has about 500,000 troops, including active, reserve and paramilitary units.according to analysts. By comparison, Russia has almost tripled that number, with 1,330,000 active, reserve and paramilitary soldiers - most of them from the Wagner group.
Biden administrationlatest available public casualty estimateGen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in November that more than 100,000 troops had been killed or wounded on both sides since the fighting began in February 2022. At the time, officials said privately that the death toll was around 120,000.
But that number spikes in winter and spring, when the two countries turn the eastern city of Bahamut into a battleground. Hundreds of soldiers have been killed and wounded every day for weeks, US officials said. The Russians took heavy casualties, but the Ukrainians took heavy losses as they tried to hold every inch of ground before losing the city in May.
The first weeks of Kiev's counteroffensive this summer were particularly difficult for Ukraine. In the early stages, the Western-trained Ukrainian army found it difficult to use "combined arms maneuvers" - a method of combat using infantry, armored vehicles and artillery at the same time.
The Ukrainian army first tried to break through the Russian defenses with mechanized combined arms units. Despite being armed with advanced American weaponry, the Ukrainians found themselves trapped in dense Russian minefields under constant artillery and attack helicopter fire.
In the first two weeks of the counterattackUp to 20% more weaponsAccording to US and European officials, Ukraine sent to the battlefield was damaged or destroyed. Among the casualties were some powerful Western fighting machines - tanks and armored personnel carriers - that the Ukrainians were counting on to repel the Russians.
More importantly, thousands of soldiers were killed or wounded, officials said.
A senior US official acknowledged the large number of Ukrainian casualties but said joint operations were "very, very difficult". He added that in recent days Ukrainian forces have begun to break through Russia's initial defense line.
In recent weeks, Ukraine has changed its tactics on the battlefield, returning to the old method of wearing down Russian forces with artillery and long-range missiles rather than launching into minefields under artillery fire.
U.S. officials fear that Ukraine's accommodation will deplete precious ammunition stocks, which could benefit Russian President Vladimir V. Putin but not Ukraine in a war of attrition. However, Ukrainian commanders concluded that the shift could reduce casualties and maintain combat effectiveness at the front.
U.S. officials said they were concerned that Ukraine was no longer willing to inflict casualties, which was one reason it was reluctant to launch a counterattack. Almost any large-scale attack against Russian fortifications protected by minefields would result in massive casualties.
In just a year and a half, Ukrainian troops have killed more US soldiers in Vietnam (about 58,000) than in nearly two decades, and about as many Afghan security forces have been killed in the entire war. Afghanistan, 2001–2021 (about 69,000）.
The number of casualties reflects the amount of lethal ammunition used by both sides. Thousands of artillery shells are fired every week, tanks are shelling buildings, mines are everywhere and drones are hovering overhead, attacking the troops below. When it came to hand-to-hand combat, it was like the battles of World War I: brutal and often in the trenches.
The numbers also show a lack of rapid medical supplies on the front lines. With heavy artillery fire being used in each engagement, it became increasingly difficult for wounded soldiers to evacuate. Unlike the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, which strictly adhered to the removal of the wounded to well-equipped medical facilities within the hour, Ukraine has no such capability.
Instead, wounded soldiers were often thrown into available vehicles or left the front on foot. In some cases, the wounded and dead were left on the battlefield because medical personnel could not reach them. Hospitals and aid stations are often overcrowded.
All over Ukraine, in large cities and villages, almost everyone knows a family that lost a loved one in battle. Dried flowers from funerals strewn quiet streets and filled cemeteries across the country.
Ukraine and Russia's estimates are based on satellite imagery, wiretapping data, reports from journalists in the countries on social media and news outlets, and official reports from both governments. Even within the US government, estimates vary.
consideringThe Pentagon Papers were leaked this springDuring this period, Russian casualties ranged from 189,500 to 223,000, with up to 43,000 killed. According to one document, by February Ukraine had suffered between 124,500 and 131,000 casualties, including up to 17,500 in combat.
While several US officials and a former senior Ukrainian official have said about 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the conflict so far, other US officials have said the number is likely lower.
These estimates differ so much that Ukraine is reluctant to disclose its war casualties even to the US government. US intelligence analysts also spend far more time on casualties in Russia than in its ally Ukraine.
Russian analysts believe the loss of life is unlikely to stop Putin. He has no political opposition at home and has described the war as the kind of struggle the country faced during World War II, when more than eight million Soviet soldiers died. US officials said they were confident Putin could handle hundreds of thousands of casualties in Ukraine, although mounting casualties could erode his political support.
Although apparently reluctant to launch a full-scale mobilization, Putin raised the upper age limit for male conscription. If Russia decides to mobilize more, the net population could quickly overwhelm Ukraine's labor reserves.
In a war that is far from over, troop deaths could have a greater impact on Ukraine. While the fighters died in droves, civilians caught in the hail of bullets killed thousands and displaced millions.
"These are people," said Evelyn Farkas, a former senior Pentagon official on Ukraine and now executive director of the McCain Institute.
"Ukraine is a democracy, so the loss of life could have had a greater political impact," said Dr. Farkas. "But even in authoritarian countries, Vladimir Putin knows that public opinion can make a difference."
Andrew E. Kramer contributed to this report.
Helen CooperHe is a Pentagon reporter. She has worked as an editor, diplomatic correspondent and White House correspondent and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for coverage of the Ebola outbreak. More about Helen Cooper
Thomas Gibbons Neffis a Ukrainian journalist and former Marine Corps infantryman. More about Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Eric Schmidtis an experienced writer who has traveled the world covering the topics of terrorism and national security. He was also a Pentagon reporter. He has been a contributor to The Times since 1983 and has won four Pulitzer Prizes. More about Eric Schmidt
Julian E. Barnesis a Washington, D.C.-based national security reporter who covers intelligence. Before joining the Times in 2018, he wrote on security issues for the Wall Street Journal. More about Julian E. Barnes
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