Death rate of Russian soldiers at its highest, more than 40,000 Wagner prison recruits are dead, injured or deserted in the Donetsk region

The deserted corpse of a Russian soldier lying on a road in Sytniaky, Ukraine.

Last week Ukraine’s outgoing defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said the new offensive is expected around February 24, which is the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion. In the first week of the invasion an average of 1,140 Russian soldiers were killed every day till October 2022 but over the course of winter months this has fallen. In December the average was 272 before it rose again to 559 per day in January.

So far, the death rate in 2023 has been consistently higher and is now nearly four times what it was last summer. The Ministry of Defense emphasized that the Ukrainian forces also suffer a high death rate. Russia lost more conscripts and soldiers since Ukraine received long-range artillery and rockets from European allies.

Out of the roughly 50,000 Russian prisoners recruited by Yevgeny Prigozin’s Wagner Group for operations in Ukraine, only 10,000 are still fighting, according to a leading Russian prisoner advocacy group. The remaining 40,000 recruits are dead, injured or have deserted their posts.

Independent estimates from EU and U.S intelligence suggest Russia lost more than 188,000 manpower in the Ukraine invasion.

Ukraine holding frontlines

Ukraine’s forces hold defense along the frontline in Donetsk, including of the besieged town of Bakhmut, with the fiercest battles raging for the cities of Vuhledar and Maryinka, Kyiv’s top military commander said on Saturday.

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, said Russia carries out some 50 attacks daily in Donetsk, a region in Ukraine’s southeast that Moscow has been trying to occupy fully.

“Fierce fighting continues in the area of Vuhledar and Maryinka,” Zaluzhnyi said in a Telegram message after a call with U.S. General Mark Milley.

“We reliably hold the defence. In some areas of the front we have managed to regain previously lost positions and gained a foothold.”

Zaluzhnyi did not specify where the gains were. He added that Ukraine continues to hold Bakhmut, tying to “stabilise” the frontline around the town.

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said on Saturday that his forces are facing fierce resistance around Bakhmut from Ukrainian defenders.

n Friday, Britain said Russian forces were making gains north of Bakhmut, but were having a more difficult time attacking Vuhledar, some 150 kilometres (93 miles) further south.

It is impossible to independently establish the control areas of each side, as fighting along the frontline has slowed in recent months to what Ukraine defence ministry calls “crawling” attempts to move little by little.

Ukraine’s military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said that despite Russia’s pressure in Maryinka, a nearly deserted and destroyed small city that has been on the frontline since the start of the war a year ago, Ukrainian forces managed to hold the ground.

“Fighting is going on in the city centre, but there have been no changes over the past 24 hours,” Zhdanov said in a social media video.

Wagner’s head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said it could take two years for Moscow to control the whole of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine. Moscow last year claimed both as “republics” of Russia, in a move condemned by most countries of the United Nations as illegal.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other military officials have been on a diplomatic marathon in recent months trying to secure more Western weapons and fighter aircraft.

“The key to success on the battlefield is effective fire damage, which requires an appropriate amount of weapons and ammunition,” Zaluzhnyi said.

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