Russian-backed separatists fighting in Ukraine are suffering staggering casualties, according to official figures, amid accusations that the Kremlin is using them as “cannon fodder”.
oscow has not introduced mass mobilisation since the war began on February 24, but forcible conscription has been in place for the two breakaway republics it supports in eastern Ukraine – the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.
Families from the regions have staged repeated protests over the “kidnapping” of men. In videos from the front, conscripts from Donetsk and Luhansk have complained of a lack of training and weaponry. Some were seen with Second World War-era rifles.
One Donetsk leader said the troops were being thrown into “the meat grinder”, adding: “More than 90pc of the people here have not fought at all … it was the first time they had seen a Kalashnikov.”
Official figures released by the Donetsk separatists’ ombudsman for human rights show that 2,061 troops from the region have been killed in the past three months and 8,500 have been wounded in action.
The separatist army in Donetsk was estimated at 20,000 soldiers before the war began. Authorities in Luhansk have not yet released data.
The Donbas region – formed of Donetsk and Luhansk – has borne the heaviest fighting since Russia withdrew its forces from the Kyiv area.
The Kyiv government has revealed that it is losing up to 200 of its own soldiers a day.
Analysts have said Russia is stepping up conscription in the Donbas to meet its manpower needs, leading to tensions with local populations.
Two dozen women from Donetsk yesterday posted a video online saying they had not heard from their conscripted husbands for two months.
“Our husbands have been snatched off from their workplaces. We have no idea where they are, if they are alive or dead,” one unidentified woman said.
Ukrainian troops have said Russian commanders seem to be throwing separatist recruits into the line of fire to spot Ukrainian artillery positions, effectively using them as cannon fodder.
Serhii, a former welder who was injured by shelling on the Luhansk frontline, said the local fighters he encountered were poorly equipped and sent on suicidal missions.
He said: “They literally don’t have helmets or armoured vests, and they are being sent to provoke us to start firing.
“We just kill them like pieces of meat but then the witches [a Ukrainian nickname for drones] detect us and know our position and they start shelling exactly where we are at that moment.”
He added of the separatist fighters: “I really have the impression that they are high on something because I just can’t understand how people without any armour just walk straight at us. We feel like we can just kill them like targets at a shooting range.”
Meanwhile, a US think tank suggested yesterday that the Kremlin may be moving to annex parts of Ukraine’s south and east currently under its control. In its daily briefing, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported that “Russian authorities are likely pushing to expedite a comprehensive annexation process in order to consolidate control over Ukrainian territories and integrate them into Russia’s political and economic environment”.
A potential annexation could deprive Ukraine of 20pc of its territory, including the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been held by separatists for the past eight years, as well as sections of Zaporizhya and Kherson that Russia seized early on in the war.
The ISW in its report pointed to “arranging political and administrative contingencies for control of annexed territories” as a sign that Moscow may be priming areas for annexation.
A formal annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk would raise questions over the fate of the two British fighters on death row in the Donetsk People’s Republic. ( Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)