Vladimir Putin and his colleagues have consistently refused to admit to any active belligerence on the part of regular Russian military personnel in Ukraine. The separatist rebels have, if the Russian leadership is to be believed, fought off the Ukrainian army all by themselves. State-controlled Russian media continue to toe the Kremlin line to justify the insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and – for the most part – the Russian public is still eating it up. But the Internet is having an impact. Bloggers publish materials freely, and even an attempt by the Russian regime to collar the Internet would likely fail to completely block Russian hackers from reading what they wanted.
Last weekend – 16-18 January – a renewed Ukrainian offensive resulted in the retaking of Donetsk Airport, which the rebels had reportedly briefly seized. Ukraine re-mobilized in the face of continued Russian reticence and intransigence over peace talks, and the resulting offensive was apparently a success for Kyiv. Russia itself, meanwhile, may have lost many troops, at least if Oleg Yarchuk – described alternately as either a “Russian” or “Ukrainian” blogger – is to be believed. His blog, “Chronicle of War,” is increasingly cited for statistics in news reports. Similarly, Russian human rights activists – such as the group “Gruz-200” (‘Cargo-200’ – named after the convoy of white-painted trucks sent by Russia to Ukraine last year, supposedly to delivery humanitarian aid, but widely suspected to have transported the corpses of Russian soldiers out of Ukraine) – are trying to get information out as well.
The below articles from the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper cite these activists:
Russian blogger: Russian Federation losses in the Donbas – more than ten thousand people
Sunday, 18 January 2015 – 17:36
As of January 17, the losses of the Russian Federation in the conflict in the Don Basin are estimated at 5,533 dead and 2,514 wounded, with 2,823 people unaccounted for.
This is according to the reports of Russian blogger Oleg Yarchuk.
According to him, on January 16-18, Russian troops lost dozens of soldiers, mostly in the district of Donetsk and the airport. Russian troops also suffered losses near Lugansk, Dokuchaevsk, Trehizbenki, Mariupol.
In particular, in his reports Yarchuk indicates military units that have suffered loss and the place of their initial deployment – from Kostroma, Maikop, Narofominsk, GRU (military intelligence) brigades of the Russian Federation, and Russian airborne assault division forces.
In many cases, losses of personnel after fighting in the Donbas have been “refined,” or “personnel were not found” after clashes. Cases of desertion are also reported.
Vasilieva: In three days in the Donbas, 382 soldiers of the Russian Federation were killed – in total nearly 6,000
Monday, 19 January 2015 – 14:23
Over the past three days of intense fighting in the Donbas, the Russian army has lost 382 soldiers, and about 500 are wounded. The total number of Russian soldiers that have died in Ukraine since the beginning of the war has increased to 5,860.
A Russian human rights activist, Yelena Vasilieva, who is investigating the participation of Russian troops in the war in the Donbas, reported on this on her website after returning from the Donbas.
“I’m afraid to write these figures. Over the past three days, the Russian army has suffered huge losses – 382 spetsnaz (special forces), marines and airborne troops. The number wounded is up to 500 people. Apparently there are significantly more wounded, but the Russian side does not give us full access to information on the wounded,” she said.
Vasilieva also noted that she has completely confirmed information on the fact that the Russian side has ceased to collect and sort body parts from the battlefield.
“In the morgue in Donetsk, remains were brought unceremoniously, frozen limbs were warmed, straightened, and immediately shrink-wrapped in cellophane, packed with wrapping tape, loaded into humanitarian convoy trucks and sent to Russia. I repeat, these were only whole bodies,” she wrote.
“All the so-called ‘puzzles’ are not bothered with, but dumped into a common bag and disposed of. For this purpose they use any available means: pour diesel fuel over them and burn them up, throw them into the nearest mineshaft, chuck them into a mobile crematorium,” said the human rights activist.
But there is no talk about any DNA extractions, she said.
According to Vasilieva, the number of those missing without explanation is getting bigger.
“A week ago I announced the figures for the number killed: up to 5,860 missing from the Russian side. Last week added 382 to our known figures. Total losses on the Russian side: 6,242 – only confirmed losses,” said “Gruz-200” group founder Vasilieva.