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EXCLUSIVE: Voice message reveals Russian military unit's catastrophic losses in Ukraine

March 2, 2022 3:01 pmby Illia Ponomarenko
Ukrainian servicemen get ready to repel an attack in Ukraine's Luhansk Oblast on Feb. 24, 2022. (AFP via Getty Images)

Seven days into the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it remains unclear how many casualties Russia has sustained.

The Ukrainian government said on March 2 the "indicative" number of Russia's losses stands at 5,840 people. Russia has only admitted it had any losses four days after it started the war, and had not given any numbers.

But multiple videos and pictures from battlefields suggest that invading forces have sustained severe casualties.

And yet another piece of evidence obtained by the Kyiv Independent sheds more light on the fate of Russia's 35th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade in Russia's war in Ukraine.

Dozens of Russian military service members were killed in action near the city of Chernihiv as a result of Ukrainian resistance in late February. Afterwards, scores of dead Russian bodies were sent home secretly, without the Russian leadership ever admitting their deaths.

The Kyiv Independent obtained a WhatsApp audio message recorded by a woman residing in the city of Aleysk in Russia's Altai region some 3,500 kilometers east of Kyiv, the home base for the 35th Brigade.

In the voice message, an unidentified woman weeps telling her fellow WhatsApp group member that the local "tank brigade" was "totally destroyed in Ukraine."

In particular, she mentions that "just 18 out of 150 guys survived," probably meaning one of the brigade's formations was destroyed by Ukrainian troops. Besides, the speaker says the first batch of 45 coffins, mostly young people from the town and villages nearby, were coming to Aleysk on the day of the recorded voice message.

The weeping woman also says some of the killed were her neighbors and acquaintances. She particularly mentions a military service-member named Evgeniy Zhilin. This name can be found in the leaked register of 120,000 Russian soldiers allegedly involved in the invasion of Ukraine published on March 1 by Ukraine's Center for Defense Strategies, a think tank. There is also a deleted VK social media account of a Evgeniy Zhilin from Aleysk.

According to the woman, the killed were mostly very young men. The local community found out about their deaths the day before the recording was made, and it mourned the loss.

The revelation is partially confirmed by several pieces of evidence about Russia's 35th Brigade's involvement in Ukraine. It is known that the brigade's armored formations were destroyed in armed clashes near the city of Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, on Feb. 26, with lots of manpower killed or taken prisoner.

The Ukrainian military on that day particularly reported seizing Major Leonid Shchetkin, who served as a chief executive officer and deputy battalion leader with Russia's military unit No. 41659, which is the home base for the 35th Brigade.

In addition, Ukrainian troops posted a video showing surrendering Russian soldiers openly admitting to being service members with the brigade based in Aleysk.

Notably, this is not the 35th Brigade's combat debut in Ukraine -- in 2014, its formations were seen engaged in combat against Ukrainian forces in Luhansk Oblast in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian leadership continues to refuse to publish any exact data on casualties of its war in Ukraine. In most cases, Russian propaganda outlets report on Russia's "special military operation in Ukraine" saying that no Russian casualties have been sustained.

But as of early March 1, the Ukrainian military reported as many as 5,710 Russian manpower casualties since the all-out invasion's first day on Feb. 24, which is comparable to Russian military losses in the two-year-long First Chechen War.

In its worst defeat in Donbas against combined Russian-militant forces in Ilovaisk in late August 2014, Ukraine lost a total of 366 combatants, according to an official investigation.

Illia Ponomarenko
Author: Illia Ponomarenko

Illia Ponomarenko is the defense and security reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He has reported about the war in eastern Ukraine since the conflict’s earliest days. He covers national security issues, as well as military technologies, production, and defense reforms in Ukraine. Besides, he gets deployed to the war zone of Donbas with Ukrainian combat formations. He has also had deployments to Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an embedded reporter with UN peacekeeping forces. Illia won the Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellowship and was selected to work as USA Today's guest reporter at the U.S. Department of Defense.

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