How many Russians have died in Ukraine? New data estimates soldier casualties
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Last September, officials in Russia issued a rare statement - a statement on the number of Russian soldiers who have been killed in the war in Ukraine. It put that number at 5,937. Now, this is widely considered to be well below the true number. And since then, we have heard nothing from the Kremlin on casualty numbers, so two independent Russian media outlets took it upon themselves to figure it out. Meduza and Mediazona are newsrooms with staff both inside and outside of Russia. They put the true number of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the war at about 47,000. We're joined now by Mika Golubovsky, the English language editor for Mediazona. Welcome.
MIKA GOLUBOVSKY: Thank you.
KELLY: So this number that you have arrived at - it's approaching 10 times what the Kremlin has officially acknowledged. Why should we trust your number?
GOLUBOVSKY: Well, Mediazona has been collecting data on soldiers who died during the war for over a year now. Together with the BBC's Russian service and a group of volunteers, we just collect it via social media reports. They are from officials or from relatives of soldiers who died. Some of the volunteers sometimes go to cemeteries across Russia and just take images of graves of soldiers who died in Ukraine.
KELLY: So you're literally - people have been going to cemeteries, counting the number of gravestones and saying, hang on.
GOLUBOVSKY: Yes. Yes.
KELLY: You also used information from the register of inheritance cases - this is the agency that collects applications of Russian citizens for inheritance - and that helped you determine excess mortality. Tell me how that works.
GOLUBOVSKY: Yes. So there's this national probate registry in Russia, and all of the deaths of people who leave any kind of significant inheritance - like cars, houses, that kind of stuff - is in this database. And what we did, basically, is we calculated the excess mortality for males in different age groups. So for instance, 20 to 24, we saw that there was a huge spike in male deaths compared to female deaths. We were then able to compare it with the data for Rosstat, which is the Federal Statistics Agency, and our estimates were in line with what we got from the Rosstat data for 2022.
KELLY: Will your work - will people in Russia be able to see it?
GOLUBOVSKY: Not without difficulty. But Mediazona - both Mediazona and Meduza have been blocked in Russia - the sites - since the start of the war. But, first of all, people are using VPNs in Russia - virtual private networks that allow you to access sites that are banned inside of Russia. Plus, we have a system of mirror sites. They blocked over 150 mirror sites for Mediazona at this point, but we were able to provide our readers with new mirror sites.
KELLY: You are able to speak freely with me right now because you are in Latvia, not in Russia.
GOLUBOVSKY: Yeah. Yeah.
KELLY: Is there any risk to you or to your colleagues who are inside Russia from you speaking to us?
GOLUBOVSKY: Well, any journalist who is in Russia is at risk, whether it's a Russian journalist or a foreign correspondent. And the example of Evan Gershkovich is...
KELLY: The Wall Street Journal correspondent...
KELLY: ...Who's been detained. Yeah.
GOLUBOVSKY: Yeah, for over 100 days. And we all were just shocked when he was arrested. So, you know, doing journalistic work from inside Russia - it's not safe. And the people who are doing it from inside Russia - they're doing a tremendous job, and we all are in awe.
KELLY: Mika Golubovsky is the English language editor for Mediazona, speaking to us there from Latvia. Thank you.
GOLUBOVSKY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.