Russia says little about its soldiers dying, so an open-source team is trying to keep track

For months, Vitaly Votanovsky has been strolling  via rows of freshly dug graves in Russia’s southern western Krasnodar area, filming and photographing proof of the nation’s mounting navy deaths, which he accuses the Kremlin of trying to conceal. 

His pictures, which Votanovsky has posted to his Telegram channel, present some cemeteries lined with plots honouring what Russia’s calls its fallen heroes.

Many mounds are adorned with massive bouquets of flowers, colored portraits of soldiers and regimental flags. 

Others are solely marked by a picket cross protruding of the grime, with out even a reputation on it. 


What angers Votanovsky essentially the most are the graves the place the soldiers killed had been solely 19 or 20, barely older than his daughter. 

“They’re wholesome males of childbearing age who may benefit the state, construct homes, factories and lift kids.”

“They find yourself mendacity within the floor now.”

Vitaly Votanovsky has been visiting cemeteries in Russia’s Krasnodar area to attempt to present the nation the ‘scale of the disaster’ Russia is experiencing. (Submitted)

Counting the lifeless

The previous air power officer-turned-activist is a part of a small community of volunteers and journalists working to doc Russia’s struggle lifeless by visiting cemeteries, speaking to members of the family and scanning social media and information publications for obituaries. 

They’re trying to quantify a demise toll that has been estimated by Ukrainian and Western officers however Russia’s has hardly ever acknowledged. 

In September, because it was asserting “partial mobilization,” the Russian Defence Ministry mentioned that slightly below 6,000 soldiers had been killed since Feb 24, 2022. 

In December, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, estimated that as many as 13,000 of its troops died. 

Russia hasn’t offered a more moderen replace, however final month, U.Okay. officers estimated that as many as 200,000 Russian fighters have been injured or killed in Ukraine for the reason that struggle started. 

Even earlier than the struggle, Russia had categorized navy deaths as state secrets.

After it launched its full invasion towards Ukraine final 12 months, it enacted more and more punishing censorship legal guidelines.

Votanovsky has beforehand been detained and informed CBC information he is presently beneath legal investigation. He acquired an image of a grave along with his {photograph} on it, however he says the demise menace hasn’t deterred him. He is persevering with his activism in Russia, however others are working from the safer environment of overseas. 


Vitaly  Votanovsky received this image with his picture and name on a grave at a cemetery. He has received death threats for posting videos to social media of crowded burial grounds filled with Russian fighters killed in Ukraine. Vitaly Votanovsky acquired this picture along with his image and identify on a grave at a cemetery. He has acquired demise threats for posting movies to social media of crowded burial grounds stuffed with Russian fighters killed in Ukraine. (Submitted)

An underestimate

 A team of journalists from the impartial media outlet Mediazona, together with journalists from BBC’s Russian service and the assistance of volunteers, have created a database and confirmed greater than 15,000 Russian navy deaths for the reason that struggle started.

“We consider the actual quantity is two or thrice larger,” mentioned knowledge journalist Maxim Litavrin in an interview with CBC information from Riga, Latvia.

Litavrin says they consider the toll is a lot larger as a result of they’re solely counting deaths that may be confirmed via open-source info on-line.

Their tally does not embrace the lacking, nor does it embrace a number of the graves that Vontanovsky has photographed, as a result of the team couldn’t discover every other further particulars.

Votanovsky says he has documented 700 graves within the Krasnodar area, and estimates that about 40 per cent of them should not a part of the journalists’ depend. 

A number of the graves are for fighters with Russia’s Wagner Group, which Votanovsky was the primary to {photograph} on the finish of December. 

He noticed a truck delivering our bodies to the location and a employee informed him that the our bodies had come from Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian metropolis close to the border. 

When Reuters journalists visited the location in January, they witnessed safety cameras and fences being put in. 

Graves of Russian Wagner mercenary group fighters are seen in a cemetery near the village of Bakinskaya in Krasnodar region, Russia, January 22, 2023.  Graves of Russian Wagner mercenary group fighters are seen in a cemetery close to the village of Bakinskaya in Krasnodar area, Russia, on Jan. 22. (Reuters)

Wagner recruited thousands of convicts from Russia’s prisons to struggle in Ukraine, and plenty of had been thrown into lethal battlegrounds across the japanese metropolis of Bakhmut. 

For months, Russia has been sending extra males and weapons to assault Bakhmut and that is one of many the explanation why Litavrin says his team has lately seen an uptick within the variety of deaths.

There are so many obituaries and social media postings, that he says that they had to recruit further volunteers to assist. 

The journalists put up infographics to assist illustrate a few of their findings, like the truth that 121 Russian pilots have been killed in Ukraine, and almost 200 officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel and above. 

Nevertheless, they don’t seem to be presently publishing the names of the soldiers. 

“We consider the Russian invasion is unlawful and merciless, however we’re not prepared to reveal the names of the soldiers,” he mentioned. 

“We do not assume that is right proper now. We must always do it when the struggle is over.”

Regardless of the escalating demise toll, Litavrin does not assume the numbers are sufficient to sway public opinion about the struggle in Russia. 

He says “Russian propaganda is working” and in many of the social media posts he is studying, folks aren’t offended, however see the deaths as a necessity and a part of a better struggle. 

In November, a ballot performed by the Levada Middle, an impartial Russian public opinion agency, found that 75 per cent of respondents help the actions of Russia’s navy in Ukraine. 

Maxim Litavrin, a journalist with the Russian independent outlet Mediazona, is part of a team of volunteers and journalists compiling a database of Russian fighters killed in Ukraine. Maxim Litavrin, a journalist with the Russian impartial outlet Mediazona, is a part of a team of volunteers and journalists compiling a database of Russian fighters killed in Ukraine. (Janis Laizans/CBC)

The truth that quantity hasn’t decreased, given the mounting deaths, leaves Carina Pronina with dismay. 

She is a journalist with the Russian newsmagazine the “Individuals of Baikal” and was compelled to depart the nation on the finish of January after being tipped off that the police could be coming to her home. 

She informed CBC Information that she had beforehand been arrested at a cemetery in Buryatia, whereas reporting on the excessive variety of navy deaths within the japanese Siberian area. 

“I assume from the start there was a sense that the demise toll, which might enhance, would lead to some form of public response,” she informed CBC information by way of a video interview by Zoom. 

“The variety of coffins does not appear to have an impact.”

‘Proof of an period’

She believes if something, the mobilization marketing campaign might need boosted Russian’s sense of patriotism and cultivated a way of belonging as a result of individuals who have misplaced their sons, husbands or fathers, need them celebrated collectively as heroes. 

Within the two areas she is specializing in, Buryatia and Irkutsk, she and her team have confirmed 700 deaths and she is going to keep doing the work though they’re all outdoors the nation. 

“We have now to have some figures — the particular individuals who died,” she mentioned.

“This is all proof of an period.” 

As for the database, Litavrin says it may be turned over to researchers after the struggle. He says even when the federal government modifications, he doubts the true tally will ever be launched.

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