No, Ukraine isn’t suffering 1,000 casualties per day

No, Ukraine isn’t suffering 1,000 casualties per day

June 20, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visiting troops on the front lines.

I’m a sucker for these kinds of videos: 

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The joy is real, yet tempered with the realization that soon enough, their loved ones will be back the worst danger imaginable. I can’t wait for the final celebration once Russia is defeated, when families can finally reunite for good.

But these videos also tell us something else: things aren’t as bad for Ukraine as some have claimed. If Ukraine was losing 300-1,000 soldiers per day on the front lines, they wouldn’t be rotating units in and out. And while we don’t know the individual stories at play here, these aren’t broken servicemembers. 

All week I’ve been skeptical of Ukrainian claims of mass casualties, reading them as propaganda ploys to keep Western weapons flowing. Ukraine is. concerned that Western attention isn’t just flagging, but might eventually turn against them over inflation, energy availability, and other economic concerns. Energy will be a real European challenge this winter, and the political right is taking advantage of the chaos—whether in France, where the hard-right just made massive parliamentary gains, or here at home, with Republicans salivating over November pickups. . 

Still, those fantastical Ukrainian claims just never made much sense given the available evidence. NASA FIRMS data suggests that more artillery is landing on Russian-held territory than Ukrainian. And sure, NASA FIRMS satellite imagery isn’t perfect, but one would expect to see far greater fire disparity if, indeed, Russia had a 10-1 advantage in artillery. Look at the last three days of fires near Severodonetsk:

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Sunday evening, June 19

The vast majority of those fires are on Russian-held territory. The ones on Ukrainian land can be counted with one hand. Ukraine is slamming the f’ out of Russian artillery and logistical targets, and it looks similar all around the Donbas front. Popasna, for example, is getting smacked hard. Meanwhile, Russian accounts themselves have lamented their own perceived inability to keep up with Ukrainian artillery. 

Meanwhile, if Ukraine was suffering up to 1,000 casualties per day, how would it have the ability to engage in counter-offensives around Kharkiv, Kherson, and Izyum? It’s clear that Ukraine has significant spare capacity to wreak havoc across three other battlefronts. Now, all three of those counteroffensives are limited in scope. Russia is too entrenched, the terrain is too exposed to artillery defenses, and Ukraine doesn’t have the numbers to punch their way through. But they’re nibbling around the edges, forcing Russia to redirect reserves away from the Donbas to these other fronts, lest they lose more hard-gained territory. 

This “we’re getting smacked hard” narrative was also at odds with what Ukraine’s military command has been reporting. Indeed, the disparity between civilian and military Ukrainian leadership has been stark. Compare a presidential advisor to Ukraine’s military command speaking of Western artillery donations:

Ukraine urgently needs to shift to longer-range and more sophisticated Western systems, but those have only recently been committed, and in insufficient quantities to match Russia’s immense firepower, he said.

Vs:

It is worth noting, for instance, that the initial request of the Armed Forces regarding 155 mm artillery units has been 90% fulfilled by the Ministry of Defence.

Indeed, their MoD announced that they had 110% more artillery shells now than at the beginning of the war!

The final straw was the disconnect between military announcements of Russian casualties (100-250 per day), and that most hysterical Ukrainian claim of 1,000 casualties per day (including 300 wounded). If this was true, then yeah, Russia would be doing much better than their battlefield progress would suggest. 

Eventually, someone in Ukraine’s high command realized that their increasingly hysterical pronouncements were not a great look. 

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And with this announcement, I can finally lay this topic to rest. Ukraine doesn’t need to exaggerate its casualties to get more Western support and aid. Quite the opposite—people love to back a winner. “Let’s boot Russia from all Ukrainian territory” is a winning narrative, one that even President Emmanuel Macron finally adopted. 

None of this means Ukraine isn’t suffering horrific losses. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pegged them a few weeks ago at 50-100 per day. That is bad enough, there’s no need to exaggerate for effect. We can see quite clearly the death Russia is raining on Ukraine. 

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Meanwhile, nothing of substance has changed on the ground since Mark’s last update. This about sums up Sunday: 

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Russia’s highest priority target, Severodonetsk, remains contested. The Institute for the Study of War concluded that, “fighting in the area has largely stalled and Russian forces are increasingly unable to consolidate control of the city, even with artillery superiority.” Ukraine really benefits from overlooking the city from the bluffs of Lysychansk across the Donets river, taking out artillery supporting the Russian advance, while raining mortar fire in Russian positions in the city itself. 

And house-to-house combat, in a way we haven’t seen since Mariupol. 


Monday, Jun 20, 2022 · 5:57:33 AM +00:00

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Good look at how artillery works. Spotter has drone, finds Russian position. Calls in coordinates. Artillery unit fires two shots, which fall well to the right of the intended target. Spotter corrects, and then artillery “fires for effect.” Volleys are still off. A third volley follows after additional correction, and hits a vehicle. 


Monday, Jun 20, 2022 · 6:03:03 AM +00:00

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From the other side: 

Setup, three shots, and then they’re gone, ahead of any potential counter-battery fire. Note that they’re carting away the shell casings with them, trying to leave less war trash behind for the inevitable future cleanup. 



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