Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is Kiev Wildly Understating Combat Deaths?

by Charles Bausman for Russia Insider

In the past two weeks persistent rumors that Kiev has been hiding thousands of killed and wounded Ukrainian servicemen and ‘volunteers battalion’ casualties have forced their way into the Ukrainian press.

The most vocal allegations of a cover-up of Ukrainian combat deaths comes not from Russian media or the leaders of the ‘separatist’ Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, but from right wing MP and Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko, and from the commander of Kiev’s ‘Donbas Battalion’ Semyon Semchenko. 

Last month on his Facebook page Lyashko directly accused President Petro Poroshenko of hiding over 8,000 Ukrainian combat deaths -- a number nearly eight times the ‘official’ KIA figures reported by the English-language Kyiv Post, which as of Friday was still stubbornly reporting ‘only’ 974 confirmed Ukrainian combat deaths - a highly dubious figure that has barely budged since the disastrous battle for Ilovaisk in early September.

According to Myroslava Petsa, a correspondent for Ukraine’s 5th Channel, Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey refused to discuss the casualties from in the Ilovaisk disaster in a recent parliamentary hearing. Ms. Petsa tweeted on October 1st that Heletey referred to the casualty lists from the Ilovaisk battle as classified. But who is Lieutenant General Heletey trying to hide Kiev’s true losses from, the Donbas militias or the Ukrainian people?

It’s easy to dismiss Semchenko as an incompetent  battlefield commander seeking to excuse his failures, and to call Lyashko a fascist clown who kidnaps alleged ‘separatists’ and strips them down to their underwear for videotaped interrogations. But Lyashko’s estimate of Ukraine’s total KIA is consistent with numbers put forward by pro-Novorossiya sources such as Colonel Cassad’s blog. It’s also consistent with the grim casualty reports from the bloody battle underway as of this writing for the Donetsk airport.

The ruins of the airport were reportedly 95% controlled by the Novorossiya armed forces (NAF) as of this past weekend after Ukrainian units rejected offers to pull out under the terms of the Minsk ceasefire agreement, which places an armistice line 20 kilometers behind the doomed airport garrison’s positions.

Novorossiya spokesmen have told Col. Cassad’s site they estimate Ukrainian losses at the airport will eventually reach 600 wounded and 1,000 dead.

Western journalists covering the Ukraine conflict can plead ignorance until now about Ukraine’s true as opposed to admitted casualties. They can cite Carl von Clausewitz’s maxim that “casualty reports on either side are never accurate, seldom truthful, and in most cases deliberately falsified”.

But the truth is at least one BBC journalist has been aware of Ukrainian rumors about horrendous losses for weeks.

In an interview with a Ukrainian journalist translated and subtitled into English by Russian-Canadian attorney Gleb Bazov’s team of Russian translators in mid-August, members of the Mykolaiv-based 79th Airmobile brigade complained bitterly that Kiev has been hiding enormous casualties. They state [at 6:38] that Ukraine has already lost more soldiers fighting the Donbas rebellion since April than the Soviet Union lost during nine years of occupying Afghanistan.

(For those readers who may not be familiar with the cost of the USSR’s disastrous Afghan campaign, that number exceeds 14,000 combat deaths and 53,000 wounded. If one considers that the soldiers may have been referring to total combat deaths in the Ukrainian SSR to the Soviet Afghan War during the 1980s, over 8,000 combat deaths in the War for Donbas is possible.)

In the same video, the 79th brigade survivors also claim that they were abandoned by the Ukrainian high command, and refuse to concede that the forces that defeated them with weeks of shelling in the so-called ‘Southern Cauldron’ near Saur Mogila were Novorossiya rebels and foreign volunteers rather than the Russian army.

It is noteworthy that BBC journalist Daniel Sandford, whose Twitter feed is widely followed among Western journalists covering Russia and Ukraine, tweeted the video on August 20, 2014 saying “Both pro-Ukrainians AND pro-Russians are now citing this video to support their views of the conflict.”

In other words, Western journalists covering the Russian and Ukrainian beat cannot plead ignorance.

The 79th brigade members’ stories of losing hundreds or thousands of comrades to artillery and GRAD rocket fire are corroborated by another video interview with Ukrainian journalists hundreds of miles to the west, this time with survivors of the 30th brigade based in the western Ukraine town of Novohrad-Volysnki.

In the video veterans of the 30th brigade and their furious relatives confront a Ukrainian officer about the whereabouts of the unit and its pathetic supply situation. The officer admits near the end that only 83 out of 4,700 soldiers who deployed with the brigade have returned unhurt. Which begs the question -- what happened to the rest? Are they dead, or wounded?

The Hromadske TV journalists, whose salaries are funded by the Dutch and American tax payer through government grants, certainly weren’t asking those questions on camera. Neither are Western journalists like Sandford who are very likely to be aware of this clip which was also translated and subtitled by Gleb Bazov’s team of translators at the Slavyangrad blog in mid-August.

Pro-Kiev Twitter warriors have denounced Lyashko’s claims that Ukraine is disposing of thousands of its servicemen or labeling as ‘Missing in Action’ thousands of combat dead as Russian misinformation -- without explaining how the Kremlin could have recruited the viciously Russophobic Lyashko and Semchenko to repeat the allegations.

But many of these sources are the same fanatics who insist Ukrainian troops hold the Donetsk airport and will never lose it despite overwhelming video evidence to the contrary. They insist that Kiev could never silence all of the relatives of the dead, wounded and missing even if it were to try.

But in a country where Right Sector goons now beat opposition politicians on camera with impunity, silencing angry relatives and imposing a blackout over the subject of hidden casualties is entirely plausible.

Especially when Western journalists have refused to question Kiev’s fraudulent casualty figures and simply wait around for Kiev’s mouthpieces to sell them their latest bill of goods.