Russian soldiers are probably getting killed or wounded in combat in Ukraine at a pace unmatched for the entire war, and casualty counts during the month November 2023 appear to be nearing World War I rates.

Russian soldiers and heavy weapons loss statistics published on Nov. 29 by Ragnar Gudmundsson, a longtime Russo-Ukraine War military data researcher, placed by-week Kremlin troop casualties at an average of 994 men killed a day during the previous week and said more than 25,000 Russian service personnel died or were severely wounded in combat in Ukraine during the month of November.   

That pace of casualties, primarily in attacks towards the Donbas region city of Avdiivka, exceeds by some 10 percent peak losses suffered by the Russian army during ultimately successful assaults on the Donbas cities of Severodonetsk, in March and April 2022, and in failed attacks on the city of Vuhledar, in February 2023, the Icelandic researcher’s analysis of Ukrainian claims of Russian troop losses found.

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Kremlin spokesmen have admitted Russian forces have suffered unexpectedly heavy losses during its invasion of Ukraine but accuse Kyiv of inflated claims. Most Western estimates of Russian losses rate the Ukrainian claims as ballpark accurate. Secret Pentagon estimates of Russian Federation losses, entering the public domain in April 2023 via the Discord gamer network, put Russian casualties at that time at about 40,000 dead and 110,000 severely wounded. The Ukrainian open-source claim a month later, was some 25 percent more than the US internal estimate.

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If confirmed, the Avdiivka-driven Russian body bag counts are, possibly, already approaching historically significant levels. Most archival records place Russian military deaths, conservatively, during the 1,554 days of World War I from July 28, 1914 – Nov. 11, 1918, at 1.7 million men killed, and 3.5-5 million wounded, or around 1,100 soldiers killed and 2,200 wounded, averaged by day.

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Modern and possibly biased Ukrainian estimates of Russian military losses lump severely wounded with soldiers killed, making a direct comparison against Imperial Russian casualty figures an imperfect match.

 

Nevertheless, the Ukrainian military made its top Russian casualty claims for the entire war so far – 1,380 on Oct. 20, 1,330 on Nov. 16, and 1,190 on Nov. 19 – eyewitnesses and from-the-front reports were describing to Ukrainian media unprecedented massed assaults by Russian infantry against fortifications around Avdiivka, the Kremlin’s current declared top-priority ground objective for capture in 2023, and heavy Russian soldier losses in assaults over open ground against dense Ukrainian trench defenses.

A Nov. 27 British Defence Intelligence estimate said: “Although Defence Intelligence cannot verify the methodology (used by the Ukrainian military), taken as a total including both killed and wounded, the figures are plausible. The last six weeks have likely seen some of the highest Russian casualty rates of Russia’s offensive against the Donbas town of Avdiivka.”

First established in 2014, Ukrainian fortifications around the town are accounted to be among the strongest on the entire front. Russian forces in late October kicked off an offensive to capture the Ukraine-held salient with heavy attacks on its flanks.

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Russian casualties in Avdiivka are coming open ground on foot, and despite crippling losses, are repeated over and over, a sergeant identified as “Legion” told the Radio Svoboda news platform in a Nov. 28 report.

“Their losses are extremely high, but nonetheless they keep crawling forward and crawling forward. The attacks never stop, not for weather, not for losses. They are literally attacking across their own corpses. Over wounded, over dead. It doesn’t matter. One brigade gets ground to bits, a second brigade gets ground to bits, then they stick in a third, they have a lot of resources,” the soldier said.

“The enemy has shifted tactics (in Avdiivka) and is launching infantry attacks. They are coming in waves 24/7. They’re doing it day and night,” Roman Pohorily, an analyst with the Ukrainian military information DeepState platform, told Channel 5 television in a Nov. 24 broadcast.

The British Ministry of Defense in a Nov. 28 statement said of the Avdiiivka battle: “Since the start of October 2023 Russian forces have moved the front up to 2 km in this area. Although modest, this likely represents one of the greatest Russian gains since Spring 2023. It has cost the units involved thousands of casualties.”

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“They are pushing in all directions, storming with a wider wedge from the left and right while also storming the front in Avdiivka. It looks like a mental attack…They fire at us day and night but where we see them, we destroy them. They receive idiotic commands from their commanders which, in their turn, get them from the political leadership,” Serhiy Tsehotsky, an officer from 59th separate motorized infantry brigade, told Radio Svoboda in a Nov. 25 report.

Russian social media, at times unwittingly, confirmed extremely heavy casualties on units sent on attacks in the Avdiivka sector. In a Nov. 28 video from an Orthodox church in northwest Russia, a man standing next to a priest and identifying himself as a volunteer assisting soldiers on the front told worshipers of crushing losses recently.

“Right now, outside Donetsk there is one regiment (a combat unit typically with 1,800-2,100 men full strength) that’s constantly moving forward. In fact, right now there are very big losses. I was away from the unit for ten days. More than 1,000 people killed,” said the man. He said his name was Igor Gennadievich Verkiev.   

According to Ukrainian official statements and combatants interviewed by Ukrainian media, the Russian attacks have pushed Ukrainians back at some locations but overall Kyiv defenses are holding and capable of resisting further attacks.

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A Thursday statement by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) Joint Forces Tavria, the command group responsible for the Avdiivka sector, said that “(T)he occupiers, with the support of aviation, do not stop trying to surround Avdiivka. Our soldiers firmly hold the defense, inflicting significant losses on the enemy…The Defense Forces repulsed 22 attacks.”

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