Russia Wouldn’t Admit Troop Deaths, Refused Return of Bodies: Ukraine

  • Ukraine says Russia turned down an offer to repatriate the remains of 3,000 soldiers early in the war.
  • Russia refused to acknowledge more than a handful had died, per Ukraine’s defense minister.
  • Oleksii Reznikov made the remarks in a new documentary about the war one year on.

Russia turned down an offer to retrieve thousands of its dead soldiers during negotiations early in the war, according to Ukraine’s defense minister.

In a recently-released documentary, Oleksii Reznikov said Russia’s representatives rejected the offer because they wouldn’t acknowledge the high mortality rate.

Reznikov was describing negotiations in Belovezhskaya, Belarus, in early March 2022, when he met with a delegation including a Russian deputy defense minister, who he did not name.

Reflecting on what he called “the cynicism of the Russians,” Reznikov said that Ukraine had counted around 3,000 Russians killed, per translations provided by the filmmaker.

He said that he asked the Russian delegation: “‘What will we do with the bodies of your dead? Maybe we will give them to you so that their mothers can bury them following proper ceremonies.'”

An abandoned helmet

A helmet of a soldier is seen after Russian forces withdrew from Balakliia, September 15, 2022.

Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

He offered to organize it with the help of the Red Cross, but the deputy defense minister said that Russia had only lost between 10 and 30 men, Reznikov said.

Reznokov said he then retorted: “‘You may not confirm it, but 3,000 of your bodies are rotting on our land. Then I will pour seeds on them, let them sprout like sunflowers.'”

The idea of sunflowers — Ukraine’s national flower — being fertilized by the bodies of Russian soldiers is a common symbol of resistance in Ukraine.

An edited clip of the documentary was translated and tweeted by Ukrainian-American campaigner Igor Sushko:

Sushko called the Russian reaction a “classic Soviet response.”

Two weeks later, Reznikov said he asked Red Cross president Peter Maurer — who had recently returned from Moscow — if he believed accurate death tolls were being reported higher up the chain of command in Russia. 

Per Reznikov, Maurer said: “‘The deputy minister knows for sure. It was written on his face.'” But Maurer said officials were too scared to tell anyone above the defense minister, according to Reznikov’s recollection. 

The legs of a dead Russian soldier

The dead body of a Russian soldier lying on the road on March 5, 2022 in Sytniaky, Ukraine.

Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images

Insider could not independently confirm the numbers of Russian dead at that time. 

Around the time of the reported conversation with Maurer, tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published Russian figures saying deaths had climbed to 9,861, citing the Russian MOD. This was at a time when the Kremlin was only publicly acknowledging 498 dead.

That figure was quickly deleted, with the newspaper claiming it was hacked. 

As of May 2023, the US estimates that more than 100,000 Russians have been killed since it launched its full-scale invasion.

The Russian Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

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