The International Criminal Court’s issuance of an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin was both the most high-profile war crimes charge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and perhaps also the least likely to result in an actual prosecution. Meanwhile, after a year and one month of war, a huge dossier of cases is being compiled by investigators inside Ukraine.
According to the office of the prosecutor general in Kyiv, more than 74,500 atrocities have been reported in Ukraine since Russia invaded. “Atrocities” in this growing file include a variety of alleged crimes: murders and executions, the shelling of civilian infrastructure, forced deportations, child abductions, torture, sexual violence and more. The rap sheet against Russia, to put it bluntly, is long.
Prosecuting even a fraction of these cases will be a daunting task.
While the tens of thousands of alleged perpetrators may not enjoy the protections of the Russian president, there are multiple obstacles to bringing them to justice: the challenge of collecting evidence in active war zones; gaining access to suspects — unless they have been captured by the Ukrainians; and the more bureaucratic challenge of gathering and organizing mountains of evidence, and determining whether cases should be brought by Ukrainian or international courts.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) historically has pursued high-level individuals; while the court issued warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, for the forced deportation of Ukrainian children, the ICC has not brought charges related to high-profile incidents such as the massacre of civilians at Bucha or the repeated attacks on civilians during last year’s siege of Mariupol. As Grid has reported, the ICC’s work is hampered by the fact that neither the U.S. nor Russia are members of the court.
The growing dossier of cases may be pursued in Ukraine’s own courts, where, as Grid has reported, Ukrainian war crimes prosecutors are working with international investigators and special mobile “DNA labs” to gather forensic evidence.
There may be other avenues. The European Union recently announced the creation of an international body to pursue the prosecution of “aggression” in Ukraine. Some European countries have laws that would allow them to prosecute Ukrainian war crimes. And a newly minted United Nations “Commission of Inquiry” for Ukraine is collecting and documenting violations of international humanitarian law, to share with other war crimes investigators.
For all the complexity and hurdles that lie ahead, the pursuit of justice in Ukraine has already shown some results. According to Reuters, Ukrainian prosecutors have tried and convicted at least 26 Russians on charges of rape, murder, the shelling of residential infrastructure and “cruel treatment.” That’s a tiny figure next to the other number — 74,500 alleged atrocities — but for those amassing the evidence on the ground, it’s a start. And it may provide some hope that their work will not be vain.
We offer a comprehensive set of data points on the war in Ukraine below. Grid originally published this document on March 24, 2022, the one-month anniversary of the war. We update it every Thursday to provide a fuller picture of the conflict.
Civilians killed: at least 8,300 (probably thousands more)
On June 7, a Ukrainian official said at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed or wounded since the war began. The official offered no breakdown of dead versus wounded civilians. The United Nations’ latest estimate of civilians killed is more than 8,300, but it consistently notes the figure is an underestimate, as is its estimate of total casualties — a combination of deaths and injuries — given as over 22,000. (Updated March 22; source, source, source.)
Ukrainian soldiers killed: at least 13,000
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, estimated in early December that as many as 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began.In early November, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, estimated that each side had seen about 100,000 soldiers killed or injured. According to the Washington Post, an anonymous German official estimates that up to 120,000 Ukrainian soldiers could have been wounded or killed since February 2022. (Updated March 15; source, source.)
Russian soldiers killed: between 5,937 and 161,000
From the early days of the war, casualty counts for Russian soldiers have varied widely — depending on the source. Ukraine raised its estimate of Russian soldiers killed in the conflict to more than 167,000 on Wednesday. These numbers have been updated frequently through the Facebook page for the country’s General Staff of the Armed Forces. In its first update on casualties since March, Russia claimed in late September that there had been 5,937 Russian military deaths. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in April that there had been “significant losses of troops, and it’s a huge tragedy for us.”
A report by Meduza, an independent Russian media outlet, and the Russian branch of the BBC confirmed at least 10,000 dead Russian soldiers as of Dec. 9, 2022. More recently, a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 Russian troops were killed between February 2022 and February 2023.
Russia has also suffered a high rate of casualties among senior officers. Thirteen Russian generals have been killed, according to Ukrainian authorities; the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency puts the figure at eight to 10. Grid’s Tom Nagorski and Keating previously reported on the possible explanations for this “inconceivable” toll: poor communications and command-and-control structures within the Russian military. (Updated March 22; source.)
Russians who have fled their country: at least 500,000
According to the Washington Post, at least 500,000 Russians have left Russia since the war began, but the number may be as high as 1 million. A significant number left immediately after the war began; another exodus followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for a large-scale mobilization in September. In 2022, their main destinations were the neighboring countries of Georgia, Kazakhstan and Serbia — which have each received more than 100,000 Russians since the war began. (Updated March 15; source)
Total displaced Ukrainians: approximately 14 million
There are over 8 million Ukrainian refugees currently reported in other European countries. United Nations data indicates over 19 million Ukrainians have crossed the border since the start of the war, but millions have returned home, largely from Poland, as Nikhil Kumar and Kseniia Lisnycha reported. In late October last year, the International Organization for Migration’s latest survey of internally displaced Ukrainians found more Ukrainians returning home from within Ukraine, but an estimated 5.4 million remained displaced within their own country. (Updated March 22; source; source.)