Video evidence of Russian troops who died in Ukraine has surfaced on international media, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s apparent efforts to minimize casualties in the conflict so far.
Russian troops retreated from areas surrounding the Ukrainian capital Kyiv last month when Moscow prioritized military operations in the southeastern region of the Donbas. The move allowed Ukrainian troops to regain control of the areas around Kyiv.
In the video, a worker wearing protective clothing can be seen zipping up white body bags in a refrigerated train wagon full of piled up bodies. Al Jazeera, which said it had been given “rare access” to the macabre scene, said the bodies were “unclaimed” and belonged to Russian soldiers who died on the front line.
The footage then shows feet sticking out of bags and the bodies of soldiers that have still not been sealed in body bags.
Ukrainian authorities say over 26,000 Russian troops have died in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, while Russia’s defense ministry reported a much lower number, of less than 1,500. Both estimates are likely incorrect, slightly inflated on the side of Ukraine and grossly underestimated on the side of Russia, according to Western intelligence.
The British government has estimated Russian casualties in Ukraine since the beginning of the war at 15,000. After only a month of the war back in March NATO had already estimated that Russian losses could be between 7,000 and 15,000.
Al Jazeera shows that some of the soldiers were found to have jewelry on them, likely stolen from Ukrainian civilians. Ukrainian Colonel Volodymyr Liamzin told Al Jazeera that Ukraine will keep the bodies of the fallen Russian soldiers for “as long as need be” because “Russia refuses to take them.”
He said that if Russia refuses to take the bodies back, Ukraine will pay for their burial.
Another clip shared by British tabloid The Sun on Tuesday shows the corpses of Russian soldiers found on the side of the road in the liberated village of Vilkhivka, near Kharkiv. The Sun’s Defense Editor Jerome Starkey found a total of 13 bodies, including 11 in what he described as a “shallow grave,” as if the bodies had been taken there to be buried but that “never happened.”
Starkey found a Russian armored vehicle and a lorry completely destroyed near where he had discovered the bodies of the Russian soldiers.
Fighting continues in the areas around the city of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian forces continue to push Russian troops back towards the Ukrainian-Russian border, according to the Institute for the Study of War.
Moscow has previously admitted “significant losses” in Ukraine, but the actual number of casualties is likely much higher than the one Putin is communicating to the Russian public. Talking to Sky News in early April, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the country had suffered “significant losses” in Ukraine which were “a huge tragedy” for Russia.
In late March, Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda temporarily had on its website an article reporting that over 10,000 Russian troops had died in the “special military operation” in Ukraine. The article was soon removed as “a fake insert” which the newspaper blamed on a hacking attack.