On Sunday evening, the Washington Post reported that, since December, Russia has lost 20,000 men in Bakhmut alone. The extraordinary figure came from John Kirby, chief spokesman for America’s National Security Council. The next day, another NSC spokesman clarified that the figure actually refers to “all of Russia’s losses across Ukraine, not just in Bakhmut”.
Still, 20,000 dead in only five months of fighting seems high. Is it plausible? We can check using the database compiled by Mediazona and BBC News Service Russia.
Since the start of Russia’s invasion, these two organisations have been tracking Russian deaths by reviewing publicly available reports, such as obituaries, social media posts by relatives, and statements by local authorities. Their method seems far more reliable than making inferences from photos of destroyed equipment – which could be doctored, used out of context or even generated by AI.
As of April 7, they count 19,688 men KIA. This figure corresponds to the Russian Armed Forces and Wagner PMC but not not the DPR and LPR militias. Using the internet archive, we can see that the total count was 9,503 as of December 2. Which means that it has increased by 10,184 since the start of December.
Now, there must be some degree of underestimation as not all deaths are publicly reported. The compilers of the database suggest the true figure may be twice as high. This means that the Russian Armed Forces and Wagner PMC have lost between 10,184 and 20,368 men since the start of December.
We also have to add losses for the DPR and LPR militias. The DPR, which is the larger of the two, documented its own losses “faithfully” (according to the Economist) until December 22, when it ceased documenting them. As of December 22, the figure stood at 4,163. And based on “open sources”, Mediazona and BBC News Service Russia estimated that the LPR had lost around 1,000 men as of November 10.
If we assume these losses occurred at the same rate since the relevant dates as they did before them, total losses since the start of Russia’s invasion would amount to 7,591. Subtracting those from before December yields a figure of 2,636. Note that Mediazona and BBC News Service Russia have independently estimated losses for the two separatist militias at 9,000 – which corresponds to 3,125 since the start of December.
It follows that total losses for Russian forces over the last five months are somewhere between 10,184 + 2,636 = 12,820 and 20,368 + 3,125 = 23,493. The average of these two estimates is 18,156 – making Kirby’s “20,000 figure” highly plausible. Based on the best available information, Russia probably has lost about 20,000 men since December.