Check facts

At Least 18,000 Russians Died in War in 2022

Where does the Federal State Statistics Service of Russia hide military casualties and how official data differ from reality? Data investigation by IStories

At Least 18,000 Russians Died in War in 2022

The Russian authorities conceal the number of Russians killed in the war in Ukraine. The Defence Ministry has not reported casualties since September 2022: the last officially reported number was 6,000. And now the Kremlin has “recommended” to governors not to publish obituaries of the Russian soldiers so as «not to alarm people».

None of the official websites in Russia have information about the number of casualties. But some information did end up in the official statistics.

At the end of June, the Federal State Statistics Service of Russia (Rosstat) published preliminary mortality data for the year 2022. Of course, there is not a single word about war deaths. However, Important Stories managed to estimate the scale of military casualties, using statistical methods and taking into account the excess mortality rate.

We show in graphs how carefully concealed data about the military casualties are reflected in the statistics and how we can calculate how many Russians died in the war in 2022. Just scroll the visualization.

Why the excess mortality in the Rosstat data is likely to be lower than the actual military casualties

Demographer (wished to remain anonymous)

First, we do not yet have the final statistics on mortality for 2022; these are preliminary estimates. Rosstat usually publishes the final report in September. This is due to the fact that sometimes a person dies, say, in December, but his relatives may register his death in February next year. It is even more difficult with the causes of death, as the process of establishing them can be delayed. Usually the final statistics do not differ much from the preliminary statistics, but this year I do not know what will happen. If [the statistics are] not shut down at all, as it was in the Soviet Union. 

Second, the big question is how deaths during combat operations in Ukraine are included in the statistics. The death certificate should be issued at the place of permanent residence in the region of Russia. But theoretically it could be issued at the place where it happened: [in the occupied territories of Ukraine]. This should not be the case, but theoretically it is possible. Rosstat can't just ignore these deaths. But they can record these people as having gone to, say, Luhansk Oblast and record the deaths on the territory of Luhansk Oblast. But then we will see a strange surge of migration of young men from the regions.

Right now, the Rosstat data are lower than the estimates of casualties according to Mediazona and BBC. There could be two reasons for this. The first is that not all military casualties are included in the current Rosstat data. It is possible that they will be included in the final report. The second is that the number of casualties in 2022 according to journalists' estimates may be overstated, [that is, the number of deaths on their list should be multiplied by a lower coefficient, not by two]. 

Demographer Dmitry Zakotyansky

[In Russia] we have poor accounting of the mortality by cause of death. In the regions, mortality from various causes is put as performance indicators for officials, and therefore local authorities can “throw” the dead between the causes of death in order to achieve [on paper] the desired results: for example, reduction of mortality from external causes (suicides, murders and others). Therefore, the data on deaths from external causes give us a very rough picture.

But if we take the total number of deaths in the country as a whole, by region, by age group, in general we [demographers] believe that we still have no falsifications here. At least not before, and I have more faith that they would rather stop disclosing statistics than rewrite them so crudely. Most likely, Rosstat's accounting of the dead is generally complete, and the discrepancies with alternative estimates may have a simpler explanation.

First, it is possible that our assumptions about the number of casualties are inaccurate. For example, the estimate by BBC and Mediazona that the number of dead on their list should be multiplied by two is conditional. Most likely, their data should be multiplied by a different coefficient at different ages. It is likely that younger people are more likely to report and raise a fuss about the deaths, so their numbers should be multiplied by less than two. Older people are more likely to die without attention, so in reality there may be three times as many as on the list of journalists and volunteers. So the figure of 30,000 dead in 2022 reflects our assumptions, but the reality may be different.

Second, some underreporting of deaths of young people may have occurred because of mass emigration, when half a million to a million people left the country, and especially many young people left. Someone left and died not in Russia, and this death was not included in the statistics. Also in 2022, a large number of migrant workers left. Their deaths, as a result, were also not included in the data on mortality in Russia, and the limitations of migration records allow only a long delay to understand that migrant workers have left the country.

Third, in the first three months of 2022, the excess COVID mortality rate remained high, and in April-July the overall mortality rate fell sharply and was even 10% lower than in 2019. Why the spring and summer, despite hostilities and hot summers when mortality rates are usually higher, have fallen so much remains to be seen. But because of this abnormal drop in overall mortality, we might not have seen thousands of additional excess male deaths in the Rosstat data.

Visualization, editing: Alesya Marokhovskaya