It’s been a regular feature of this “War in Data” series since the Russian invasion and a consistent challenge in terms of getting accurate assessments: How many Russians and Ukrainians have been killed or wounded in the war? The figures have ranged wildly; in terms of Russian casualties, Ukrainian estimates have been on the high end, the Kremlin’s very low (and infrequently reported), and landing in the middle have been periodic assessments by outsiders — typically, officials in the U.S. and other NATO nations. Until recently, the highest American estimate had been 70,000 to 80,000 Russians killed or wounded in the war.
So it was stunning to hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, say that his current estimate of Russian casualties — again, dead and wounded combined — was now more than 100,000. And equally surprising that the assessment of Ukrainian casualties was of a similar magnitude.
“You’re looking at well over 100,000 Russian soldiers killed and wounded,” Milley said in remarks at the Economic Club of New York. “Same thing probably on the Ukrainian side.”
Milley did not distinguish between numbers of dead and numbers of wounded, but regardless, these are staggering figures for both sides. The Kremlin’s highest publicly disclosed figure of war dead has been 5,937. The Ukrainian side has given occasional estimates — the highest at 11,000 — and multiple reports recently have suggested a running toll of 20 to 100 troops lost per day. If indeed Russia has lost more than 100,000 soldiers to death and injury, it’s not only vastly more than its leaders have acknowledged; it also would exceed the toll for Soviet forces in the decadelong Soviet war in Afghanistan. To take another metric, around 7,000 U.S. troops were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. And in terms of the current war, this latest assessment means that more than two-thirds of the estimated 150,000 troops Russia massed at Ukraine’s borders prior to the invasion have been lost to death or injury.
As Grid’s Global Security Reporter Joshua Keating has reported, such counts are classic examples of what is often referred to as “the fog of war,” not only because the numbers are hard to come by, but also because the combatants have their own reasons to minimize their own losses and perhaps inflate numbers they give for enemy casualties. Rumor and inaccuracy spread via social media don’t help, and the varying tolls, as Keating wrote, “serve as reminders that counting casualties is an inexact science, often tangled in politics and misinformation.”
For its part, the U.S. has said it arrives at these figures via a combination of satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and media reports. And for the record, no officials in Russia or Ukraine have disputed Milley’s figures.
We offer a more comprehensive set of data points on the war in Ukraine below. Grid originally published this document on March 24. We update it every Thursday to provide a fuller picture of the conflict.
On June 7, a Ukrainian official said at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed or wounded since the war began. The official offered no breakdown of dead versus wounded civilians. The United Nations’ latest estimate of civilians killed is over 6,500, but it consistently notes the figure is an underestimate, as is its estimate of total casualties — a combination of deaths and injuries — given as over 16,000. (Updated Nov. 16; source, source.)
Top advisers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy estimated in June that 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began. Meanwhile, on Aug. 22, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, said the country had lost about 9,000 troops. In mid-April, U.S. intelligence officials put the number at 5,500 to 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the invasion. On June 10, an adviser to Zelenskyy said Ukraine was losing as many as 200 soldiers each day. (Updated Aug. 24; source, source, source.)
From the early days of the war, casualty counts for Russian soldiers have varied widely — depending on the source. Ukraine raised its estimate of Russian soldiers killed in the conflict to more than 82,000 on Wednesday. These numbers have been updated frequently through the Facebook page for the country’s General Staff of the Armed Forces. In its first update on casualties since March, Russia claimed in late September that there had been 5,937 Russian military deaths. Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said in April that there had been “significant losses of troops, and it’s a huge tragedy for us.”
Russia has also suffered a high rate of casualties among senior officers. Thirteen Russian generals have been killed, according to Ukrainian authorities; the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency puts the figure at between eight and 10. Grid’s Tom Nagorski and Joshua Keating previously reported on the possible explanations for this “inconceivable” toll: poor communications and command-and-control structures within the Russian military. (Updated Nov. 16; source.)
There are more than 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees currently reported in other European countries. United Nations data indicates more than 15 million Ukrainians have crossed the border since the start of the war, but millions have returned home, largely from Poland, as Nikhil Kumar and Kseniia Lisnycha reported. In late October, the International Organization for Migration’s latest survey of internally displaced Ukrainians found more Ukrainians returning home from within Ukraine, but 6.5 million remained displaced within their own country. (Updated Nov. 16; source; source.)