Fact Check: Have Over 150K Ukraine Troops Been Killed in Russia Conflict?

As the war in Ukraine drags into nearly a year of conflict, both civilian and military losses continue to mount with Russia pushing for control of the east of the country.

Estimating the number of those killed in combat continues to be an imperfect science, with the war dead likely to remain undercounted until fighting ends.

One claim shared on Twitter however, noticed by Elon Musk, said that more than 150,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the start of the war.

Comp, Ukraine and Russian Soldiers
in this combination image, a Ukrainian soldier (Left) patrols the frontline outside the town of Novoluhanske, eastern Ukraine, on February 19, 2022 and Russian soldier (Right) walks along a street in Mariupol on April 12, 2022 Getty

The Claim

A tweet posted by @runews, on February 5, 2023, claims that a "Turkey newspaper" found 157,000 Ukrainian soldiers are dead, alongside 234 NATO military trainers and 2,458 NATO troops.

The tweet, which has been viewed more than 12 million times (and included a response from Elon Musk) also alleged that a statement by President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen that "more than 100,000 Ukrainian military have been killed so far" had been deleted.

The Facts

It's worth pointing out that finding accurate figures for casualties on either side of the war is immensely difficult.

Both the Russian and Ukrainian governments have quoted figures that fall below estimates made by international intelligence sources.

Kyiv Post reported that in December 2022, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, said official estimates of the number of Ukrainian troops killed "range from 10,000 ... to 13,000".

Russia has not recognized estimates made elsewhere. The Spectator, a British conservative magazine, in a January 2023 article reported that the last time Russia's defense ministry commented on army casualties was in September; defense minister Sergei Shoigu said that 5,937 Russian soldiers had died since the start of the conflict.

Before we reach into what the actual numbers may be, it's worth acknowledging the dubiousness of Russian Market's claims.

The figures it quoted were from a Turkish website, Hürseda Haber, that alleged that Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had compiled the figures. These numbers were presented without any additional context or links to sources.

There was no other coverage of these figures elsewhere and the likelihood of Mossad sharing intelligence data with a website such as the one that Russian Market quoted seems highly doubtful.

Any reports on Ukrainian and Russian deaths are by their nature contentious, even from respected analysts or intelligence sources, given the lack of truly verifiable information obtainable at this point in the conflict.

The fact that only one outlet quoting figures from a report it doesn't link to, with no other authenticated sources, and no repetition of the same figures elsewhere, should (at the very least) be treated with suspicion.

Nonetheless, examining other intelligence reports and sources from more reliable analysts suggests the figures quoted by Russian Market should be doubted.

In January 2023 Norwegian Chief of Defense Eirik Kristoffersen, speaking to Norwegian network TV2, claimed that as many as 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died or were wounded. He put Russian military casualties at 180,000.

A similar figure for Ukrainian troop casualties—comprising both dead and injured—was quoted by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, a report by The Washington Post reported. Milley said Russian casualties were also likely over 100,000.

Newsweek was unable to find any reports that quoted the same number of Ukrainian troops killed as the figure quoted in the Hürseda Haber article.

The article also claimed that only 18,480 Russian troops have been killed. Even with the difficulties of accurately estimating Russian losses, this figure is incorrect.

As early as July 2022, the Chief of MI6 (the U.K. Secret Intelligence Service) Richard Moore said: "Fifteen thousand Russians have lost their lives, that's probably a conservative estimate."

This estimate was repeated at the time by CIA director William Burns.

In November 2022, Milley said as many as 100,000 Russian soldiers had died, while a January 2023 report by The New York Times said that as many as 200,000 Russian troops had been killed and wounded in Ukraine.

Although the Times report only mentioned "senior U.S. officials" as the source, Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen, speaking to TV2, also said 180,000 Russian troops were dead or wounded.

Speaking to the Times, Kristoffersen said there was "much uncertainty regarding these numbers, as no one at the moment [is] able to give a good overview. They could be both lower or even higher."

In any case, even conservative estimates seem to put the figure for Russian losses far beyond the number quoted in the Hürseda Haber article.

The claim about NATO soldiers from the U.S. and U.K. is incorrect too.

A Casualty Status report by the U.S. Department of Defense shows no American forces have been killed in Ukraine, while the U.K. Ministry of Defence directly responded to the Russian Market tweet saying it was inaccurate.

"This report is inaccurate. No UK Armed Forces personnel have been killed in Ukraine," it stated. "UK personnel training Ukrainian Armed Forces as part of Op Orbital departed Ukraine in Feb 2022. UK-led training of Ukrainian recruits is now taking place in the UK."

The claim about Ursula von der Leyen saying 100,000 troops had died is also misleading; a spokesperson for the EU Commission clarifying that von der Leyen had misspoken.

Dana Spinant, Deputy chief spokeswoman and Director for Political Communication for the EU Commission, responding to a video of Von Der Leyen's comments tweeted: "Many thanks to those who pointed out the inaccuracy regarding the figures in a previous version of this video.

"The estimation used, from external sources, should have referred to casualties, i.e. both killed and injured, and was meant to show Russia's brutality."

We still don't know what the total number of dead among the Ukraine and Russian military is, so we can't yet say with certainty that the numbers quoted by Russian Market are verifiably incorrect.

However, given the dubious nature of Russian Market's source, the inherent difficulty of measuring the war's casualties, and how different its numbers are compared to far more credible sources, we can say the claim has not been appropriately verified and should be treated with extreme skepticism.

Newsweek has contacted Mossad, the Kremlin, and the Ukrainian government for comment.

The Ruling



The figures quoted in Twitter come from a Turkish website that does not link to its sources, nor does it provide any other authenticated evidence.

The claim that it received its data from Israeli security services is also highly dubious.

While we cannot verify the actual number of soldiers killed on either side of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the estimates quoted in the tweet and the article do not match anywhere near the figures cited by Western intelligence services and senior officials.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team

Unverified: The claim could be true or false, but there is at the time of publication insufficient publicly-available evidence to prove so either way. The claim should be treated with caution and skepticism until more evidence becomes available to make a conclusive determination.
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