Military Casualties In Russia-Ukraine War Are Likely Less Than Commonly Stated

At the start of March, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces stated that the Russian military casualties exceeded 150,000. Meanwhile, several reports indicate that Ukrainian military casualties are in excess of 100,000. However, it is likely that the actual numbers of Russian and Ukrainian combat losses are considerably less. Indeed, casualty estimates in most wars are often inflated due to issues in reporting, “the fog of war,” and government propaganda. While it is difficult to determine the exact number of casualties suffered by both sides of the war due to these challenges, the data compiled from can nevertheless provide open-source approximations of these casualties.

Unlike previous wars, the pervasiveness of social media has allowed for a fairly transparent battlefield. Indeed, civilians on the battlefield, along with some of the combatants, are posting pictures to social media sites of destroyed military equipment. is a website that tracks and analyzes these images, compiling the equipment Russian and Ukrainian equipment losses. As stated in a previous article, there remains some uncertainty to the accuracy of these values since they are based on open-source reports. Regardless, this website has become a staple website for those tracking the war.

The heavy use of artillery is one of the primary factors contributing to the inflated numbers in the Russia-Ukraine war. The doctrines of both militaries revolve around artillery, and they prefer engaging their enemies from distances of multiple kilometers. These engagements are often inaccurate and difficult for a unit to assess whether they hit a target. It is key to note that the artillery is typically targeting enemy artillery and armored vehicles.

Given the nature of the conflict, the bulk of the casualties are from the crews of destroyed vehicles and equipment. Therefore, an estimate for the battle casualties can be calculated from the equipment losses compiled from For example, a standard Russian tank has a crew consisting of a commander, gunner, and driver; therefore, the 1,782 Russian tanks destroyed through the end of March 2023 equates to 5,346 losses. Through compiling the crews for all of the ground vehicle losses listed on Oryx, an estimate can be generated to identify the total number of casualties for both sides.

The below figure displays the cumulative number of casualties through February linked to destroyed vehicles. The Ukrainians have lost approximately 13,440 soldiers while the Russians have lost 45,170 soldiers. Note that these figures do not factor in casualties from dismounted operations. Although both countries primarily used mechanized maneuvers in the early phases of the war, there have been reports of increased dismounted operations, especially by the Russians around Bakhmut, where human-wave attacks have reportedly led to a large number of casualties. Additionally, this estimate does not account for non-combat related injuries, such as illnesses and accidents. As such, the actual number would be expected to be higher. However, it is unlikely to be as high as the 150,000 Russian casualties claimed by the Ukrainians or the 100,000 projected for the Ukrainians. Note that the number of Ukrainian casualties does align with estimates provided by Ukrainian officials in December who placed Ukrainian casualties around 13,000.

Many of the claims of 150,000 Russian losses stem from the Russian mobilization that is rapidly fielding undertrained soldiers. The 45,170 casualties from this analysis would indicate that the Russian forces are fielding significantly more than just replacements. Rather they are attempting to boost the total number of military personnel in Ukraine. Initially, the Russian military perceived that their superior technology and training would allow them to defeat the Ukrainians without having a numerical advantage. That ended up being false. As of now, the Ukrainian counter-offensive appears to be a slow-grinding, war of attrition, where both sides have similar technology. In such a battle, the side with the larger force typically wins.

This casualty assessment also displays several interesting trends through the war. The below figure shows the Russian and Ukrainian casualties by week. Note that the weeks shown on the plot are determined by the dates when the website gathered the images, which may introduce some degree of error.

The different phases of the war can clearly be seen from this plot. During the initial invasion, the Russian forces took heavy losses while the Ukrainians sustained fewer casualties. This is in accordance with military doctrine, where armies in a defensive position should sustain approximately a third the number of casualties of those on the offense. Around April, the Russian casualties decreased and leveled off (aside from Week 12) corresponding to the Russians ending their initial assault and focusing on the Donbas region. Around Week 25, both sides began to see increased losses, as the Ukrainians launched their counter-offensive. As part of the counter-offensive, neither side should have a definitive tactical advantage, which would result in both sides having similar losses. However, the Russians sustained more losses likely due to the fielding of under-trained soldiers. Regardless, in Russian and Ukrainian losses are much more comparable than earlier in the war.

The trends also clearly show the injection of new technologies onto the battlefield. For example, the peak in Russian casualties at Week 26 corresponds to the Ukrainian usage of HIMARS systems when retaking the Kherson and Kharkhiv regions. Meanwhile, the peak in Ukrainian casualties around Week 30 is associated with the Russian use of Iranian drones on Ukraine. In both cases, the impact lasted a short period of time, as each military adapts their tactics to reflect the injection of new technology on the battlefield.

In past wars, casualty reports were controlled by the two militaries and modified for strategic messaging. Nevertheless, this war can leverage the widespread availability of open-source data to get a clearer view of the war. It is worth noting that while the numbers found in this analysis are lower than those claimed in other reports, they are still fairly high. Both militaries have taken a number of casualties, and the war is not over. With both a Russian offensive and a bolstered Ukrainian counter-offensive looming, the casualties will likely continue to increase.