[3/17/23 – UPDATE: Politico later corrected its story to say the casualty estimate offered by US officials included forces both “killed and wounded,” not only deaths. This article has been amended to reflect that clarification.]
American officials estimate that at least 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured in the year since Russia invaded. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin painted a grim picture for Kiev, warning “Ukraine doesn’t have any time to waste.”
Politico spoke with unnamed American officials who gave the estimated death toll, reporting “upwards of 100,000 Ukrainian forces have been killed or wounded in the year-long war.” That includes the country’s “most experienced soldiers,” the outlet added, noting that officials are “increasingly concerned about Ukraine’s dwindling supply of ammunition, air defenses” and combat-ready troops.
Speaking to the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group on Wednesday, Austin warned “Ukraine doesn’t have any time to waste” and called on member nations to ensure that “Ukrainian soldiers get the training, spare parts and maintenance support that they need.”
The Washington Post recently said that the high rate of casualties has gradually “changed the profile“ of the Ukrainian military, pointing to an “influx of inexperienced draftees… brought in to plug the losses.” Soldiers are also “suffering from basic shortages of ammunition, including artillery shells and mortar bombs, according to military personnel in the field,” the Post added.
According to Politico, Ukraine has sustained “massive” casualties in Bakhmut (also known as Artyomovsk in Russia), a logistics hub in the Donbass region that’s seen fierce fighting in recent months. The Kyiv Independent reported that Ukrainian forces arriving in the city are “unprepared, poorly-trained battalions being thrown into the front line meat grinder to survive as best they could with little support.”
Though Austin believes Bakhmut is a “symbolic,” rather than “strategic,” battle for Kiev, Ukrainian officials disagree, insisting the city is key to holding the entire front line. Recently, American officials have expressed concerns that Ukraine is losing too many troops and weapons defending the area.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Ukraine is burning through thousands of artillery shells each day in Bakhmut. Western officials do not believe this rate of fire is sustainable. Currently, the US produces just 14,000 155mm artillery rounds per month, and the White House has already sent more than 1 million such shells to Ukraine over the past year.
Considering previous statements from Pentagon officials as well as officials in Europe, this latest estimate on Ukraine’s losses may be on the low end. For example, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley claimed 100,000 Ukrainian forces had been killed along with tens of thousands of civilians more than five months ago, leaving the true figures unclear.
In January, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the head of the armed forces of Norway both made similar claims. Around the same time, German intelligence assessed that a “three-digit number” of Ukrainian soldiers were being killed daily during the ongoing fight for the eastern Donetsk city of Bakhmut.
Last month, a former US Marine fighting for the city alongside Ukrainian forces told ABC News that soldiers on the front line have an average life span of only “four hours,” adding that Russian artillery bombardment “is nonstop… All day and night.”