FACT CHECK: Have 300,000 Ukrainian Soldiers Died?
Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity that 300,000 Ukrainian troops have died during the conflict.
There is no evidence that 300,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died during the conflict. Estimates vary, but the United States assessed that between 15,500 and 17,500 Ukrainian troops have died between Feb. 24, 2022 and March 1, 2023.
Kennedy Jr. announced his run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination on April 19, according to CNN. The presidential candidate recently claimed the Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy in 1963, The Hill reported.
During an interview with Hannity, he said that 300,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed.
“And by the way, what we’re doing in Ukraine is not good for the Ukrainian people. We’ve killed 300,000 Ukrainian troops, 14,000 civilians,” Kennedy Jr. claimed.
However, there is no evidence that 300,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died. If 300,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died, media outlets would have covered it, yet none have. Neither the Ukrainian government nor western governments have released statements noting that 300,000 Ukrainian troops have died.
A document from the leaked Pentagon documents titled “Russia/Ukraine: Assessed Combat Sustainability And Attrition” estimated that between 15,500 and 17,500 Ukrainian troops had been killed and between 109,000 and 113,000 wounded.
“We have low confidence in Russian (RUS) and Ukrainian (UKR) attrition rates and inventories because of information gaps, OPSEC and IO efforts, and potential bias in UKR information sharing,” the document reads. “Casualty assessments, which fluctuate depending on the source, are informed by RUS, Vagner, and UKR officials.”
The Telegraph reported April 6 that 150,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed or wounded. The Washington Post reported Mar. 13 that European and U.S. officials believe 120,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded in the conflict. The New York Times reported Mar. 15 around 100,000 Ukrainian casualties. (RELATED: Did The Leaked Pentagon Documents Show Ukraine Suffered 71,000 Dead?)
A U.S. official told Check Your Fact in March 2023 that Ukrainian casualties remain within the 100,000 casualty number estimated by Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in November 2022. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in December 2022 that up to 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed, according to Al Jazeera.
Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Check Your Fact that he’d “never heard any Ukrainian or Western official suggest that the number of Ukrainian troops killed is 300,000.”
“Putting aside the ridiculous claim by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that ‘we’ killed Ukrainian soldiers, I’ve never heard any Ukrainian or Western official suggest that the number of Ukrainian troops killed is 300,000, ” Coffey said. (RELATED: Have 100,000 Ukrainian Soldiers Died In The Russian-Ukrainian War?)
“Neither Russia nor Ukraine releases their official casualty figures. Therefore, it is very difficult to know with any certainty how many killed and wounded soldiers Ukraine has suffered throughout the duration of the conflict. However, speaking to frontline commanders and senior Ukrainian officials, I’ve been told that Ukrainian casualties total about 1/3 of Russia’s. Considering that Ukraine has been fighting mainly a defensive war so far, this ratio makes sense,” Coffey added.
A Ukrainian military reserves officer who goes by the name “Tatarigami UA” on Twitter told Check Your Fact in a Twitter direct message that the claim was “absolutely impossible.”
“That’s absolutely impossible. If Ukrainian troops had 300,000 dead, that would mean that even with the conservative estimate 3 wounded for each killed ratio, it would mean that there are at least 900,000 wounded, totaling in over a million casualties. If that was the case, you would see a collapse of Ukrainian defenses across the entire frontline but so far we don’t see it,” Tatarigami said.
“Unlike Kennedy, who has no access to any military data of a foreign country, I would rather refer to leaked documents as their provided numbers might be much closer to reality,” Tatarigami added.
The claim was repeated by Scott Ritter in April 2023, an analyst who has made false claims about the Russian-Ukrainian war before. The TASS article also noted that Ritter claimed Valery Zaluzhny, the commander in chief of the Ukrainian military, told Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a meeting that Ukraine has suffered 257,000 dead.
That claim appears to have originated from retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas McGregor, though Check Your Fact could not verify if it actually came from him. A Pentagon spokesperson told Check Your Fact that the claim Zaluzhny told Milley that 257,000 troops had been killed was “false.”
Check Your Fact reached out to the Kennedy Jr. campaign for comment and will update this article if a response is provided.
Update: 5/12/2023: This article has been updated to reflect that Tatarigami is in the Ukrainian military reserves.
Update: 5/18/2013: This article has been updated with more information about the origin of the claim and a comment from the Pentagon.