the massive losses of Russia’s elite regiment sent to invade Kiev

Images of Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine

Photographs of some Russian soldiers from the 331st Regiment who died in Ukraine

In every war, there are units that excel and others that become symbols of failure.

Russia’s 331st Parachute Regiment, which had high hopes of excelling in the invasion against Ukraine, now represents the crumbling of the Kremlin’s plan to turn it into a war with a quick end.

The regimental commander, Colonel Sergei Sukharev, was killed in Ukrainian territory on March 13 and was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation medal.

At his funeral, Deputy Defense Minister General Yuri Sadovenko said the colonel “lived for the future, for the future of our people, a future without Nazism.”

Casualties among Russian forces are not widely reported in Russia, but using open-source information, the BBC reconstructed the history of their advance and found that at least 39 other members of the elite 331st Regiment were killed.

The men were part of a column that advanced into Ukraine from Belarus, led by Russian airborne forces, known by the acronym VDV. Their objective was to advance towards the capital, Kiev.

But mobilization stalled in Kiev’s periphery districts such as Bucha, Irpin and Hostómel, where the cruelty of the war soon became apparent.

A video found by the BBC shows VDV light armored vehicles damaged and abandoned in the area after an attack by Ukrainian special forces.

The chosen ones

The men of the 331st Regiment were considered the chosen ones of the Russian army. In a video published in May 2021, a general tells soldiers that they are “the best of the best”.

The unit served in the Balkans, Chechnya and the 2014 Russian intervention in Ukraine’s Donbass region and regularly participated in parades in Red Square in Moscow.

The 331st Regiment was also a showcase for Russian policy of replacing national service soldiers with contraktnikiwho are the professionals who work under contract.

It is understandable that the generals gave them an important role in the invasion.

the deaths

But since the beginning of March, reports of deaths of members of the 331st Regiment began to circulate. Furthermore, it took time for their bodies to be taken to Kostroma, the community where they are based, 300 km northeast of Moscow.

When the funerals began, a debate erupted on social media. Posts on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, promised “eternal memory” to soles and featured images of candles.

Translated, the publication reads:

Translated, the post reads: “Soldier 331 PDP St ST Duganov Sergey has died. We mourn with you. Eternal memory of the Hero of Russia! Eternal Glory!”

A woman claiming to be the wife of Petty Officer Sergei Lobachyov wrote: “Seryozha, my reliable, loving and caring husband. You are now in heaven and will protect us from there! You will always live in our hearts and you will. You will always be a true hero. for me!”

While many publications seem to accept the Kremlin’s baseless explanations that the war is being waged against alleged Ukrainian fascists, some also express anxiety over the lack of reliable information.

At the memorial made to Sergeant Sergei Duganov, a woman wrote: “Nobody knows anything. The 331st Regiment is disappearing. Photos of our Kostroma boys are published almost every day. It gives me the chills. What is happening? will end ?” When will people stop dying?”

Yanosh Leonov's partner wrote: "Youê  é  a true hero, you are;  é  the best father, a loving and loving husband, a loyal friend and a true fighter

Yanosh Leonov’s partner wrote: “You are a true hero, you are the best father, a loving and loving husband, a loyal friend and a true fighter”

The post was followed by another, which exclaimed: “Kostroma has lost so many young people, what a tragedy.” Another pleaded, “God, how many more death notices are we going to get? Please have mercy on our children. Help them survive, bring them home to their wives and mothers. I beg you!”

The questions

Talking about the war in Russia carries great risks, but there are signs of a loss of faith in the Kremlin’s arguments about the conflict.

On a sergeant’s memorial page, a woman asks: “Why aren’t the children of parliamentarians on the front lines? Most of them live in Europe anyway. Ordinary children die for no good reason.”

Another uses a swear word to describe President Vladimir Putin, saying: “Playing at war” has “sent thousands of guys to die”.

However, most of those who react on social media remain true to the official narrative.

Meanwhile, on some walls of the VKontakte memorial, Ukrainians posted comments mocking the dead.

“More than 15,000 have already died and will continue to die while they are marching on our land. Nobody invited them, goddamn saviors,” says one.

“Alexander, go away you bloody Nazi,” replies a Russian in another post with jokes. “Our soldiers are true heroes. The Russians have never killed civilians or children, something that cannot be said about the Ukrainians.”

However, the fury of these online barbs is nothing compared to the experiences of VDV forces, which have been hit by Ukrainian artillery, ambushes and infantry attacks during weeks of bloody fighting.

The flaws of the 331

In these close-quarters battles, they discovered what previous VDV units had learned in Afghanistan: that armored vehicles designed to be light enough to be carried by aircraft don’t provide much protection from enemy fire.

Publication on social networks about the death of Lobachyov, soldier of the 331st Regiment

Sergei Lobachyov’s wife speaks out about the soldier’s death in the networks and says he was “loyal and loving”

From the roads outside the Hostómel airfield, to a side street in Bucha, or a road junction in Irpín, videos taken by Ukrainians showed burned and abandoned vehicles belonging to the group of paratroopers.

These snippets of cellphone footage also speak to a more basic flaw.

In these destroyed neighborhoods around Kiev, the Russian paratroopers were overtaken by the Ukrainians. And since the defenders were, in many cases, simply local defense units or reservists, this indicates a basic flaw in the VDV’s training and recruitment system.

The Ukrainians clung to the losses of the 331st, enthusiastically claiming that the regiment was “annihilated”.

Ilya Ponamarev, a former Russian parliamentarian and opposition figure who now lives in Kiev, says people see the regiment’s fate as a perfect example of karma.”

During the 2014 fighting in Donbas, Ukrainians blamed the 331st for the deaths of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in Ilovaisk, in violation of a ceasefire agreement.

Image of Russian soldier Leonid Panteleev

Leonid Panteleev, a Russian soldier of the 331st Regiment who died on Ukrainian territory. The 331st Regiment had incursions in the Balkans and Chechnya

However, while the regiment suffered considerably, Ukrainian claims that they were wiped out may be overstated.

However, it is likely that the Parachute Regiment was recently withdrawn from Ukraine. Certainly, unidentified elements of the VDV task force were filmed on March 29, as they returned to Belarus.

The price of failure increases daily. At the time of writing, BBC Newsnight has compiled a list of 39 Parachute Regiment members killed in Ukraine.

But since none of these deaths is more recent than March 13, it can be assumed that dozens more will emerge in the coming weeks.

Residents of Kostroma told the report they believe as many as 100 members of the regiment may have been killed. And many families will never receive the bodies of their loved ones because they were left behind on the battlefield.

Even a conservative projection of the deaths we now know, and their dates, suggest that the losses of people in a few weeks in Ukraine already exceed those of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

The regiment that left confidently in February acquired the kind of reputation no soldier would ever want.

The BBC confirmed the names of 39 soldiers killed:Klim Abramov, Artem Arbuzov, Oleg Bedoshvili, Yurii Borisov, Ilya Chernyshev, Yuri Degtaryov, Konstantin Dobrynin, Sasha Dolkin, Sergei Duganov, Kiril Fedoseyev, Andrey Kovalevsky, Sergei Krylov, Stanislav Kutelev, Yanosh Leonov, Alexander Limonov, Sergei Lobachyo, Ivan Mamzurin , Ilya Martynenko, Lev Ovchinnikov, Maksim Ovchinnikov, Leonid Panteleyev, Oleg Patskalyev, Stanislav Petrutik, Roman Pomelov, Pavel Rudenko, Alexander Shalygin, Nikolai Smirnov, Sergei Sukharev, Maxim Svetlenko, Nikolai Symov, Daniil Titov, Maxim Trokai, Ivan Turyev, Maxim Vorotyntsev, Alexei Vyshegorodtsev, Alexei Yelimov, Artem Yergin, Ravshan Zhakbaev, Danila Zudkov.

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About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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