Ukraine: Casualty Recording during the Full-Scale War (blog 1)

Against the backdrop of the full-scale war in Ukraine, Every Casualty Counts commissioned students at the University of Groningen to conduct a short research study into how the Ukrainian authorities are upholding their legal obligations to account for every death or disappearance that has occurred as a result of the conflict.

In this series of blogs, student researcher Anastasiia Liulina shares her findings on the steps the Ukrainian authorities are taking to ensure casualties are recorded, recognised and remembered during an ongoing war. She also sets out what other countries can learn from Ukraine’s approach.

In this first blog (out of three) Anastasiia looks at how both civilian and military casualties are recorded, and what happens if the bodies can’t be found.

Recording deaths

The National Police Service in Ukraine is one of the official bodies with responsibility for recording casualties. As of January 2023, they had recorded 16,502 dead civilians, with the caveat that they believe the true number to be considerably higher.

These national records are also much higher than the estimate from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which recorded 9,083 civilians killed between the start of the invasion in February 2022 and mid-June 2023. Again, OHCHR recognise explicitly that the actual number will be higher.

When it comes to military losses, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) does not publicly share information about the number of Ukrainian casualties during the current conflict. This information is classified on the belief that it could enable the enemy to plan its military operations better.

It does, however, record and share the number of Russian combatants killed every day since the beginning of the invasion. As of 27 June 2023, this number is estimated to be 226,170. This number also broadly tallies with other, independent, casualty records.

The Missing

In situations of armed conflict where a person is missing, presumed dead, it is often difficult for relatives and families to seek reparation and compensation for their death without a physical body or other hard evidence of the death.

Ukrainian legislation addresses this by including specific mechanisms to make the process easier for families, including that:

  • A person can be declared missing or dead by a court.
  • A person can be declared missing if there is no information on their whereabouts at the place of their residence for a year.
  • A person who goes missing in connection with hostilities, such as an armed conflict, may be declared dead after two years after the end of hostilities. And, considering the specific circumstances of each case, the court may declare a person dead even before the expiration of this term, but not earlier than after six months.
  • Family members of military personnel, entitled to a pension, and who were declared dead or missing, have the right to a pension in the event of the loss of a breadwinner.
Photo by Anastasiia Liulina

And vitally,

  • If a person who disappeared under special circumstances – such as armed conflict, hostilities, or temporary occupation of part of the territory of Ukraine – was declared dead, but their whereabouts, burial place or the location of their remains have not been established, the search shall not be stopped until the location of their remains have been determined.

These are important measures because an official declaration of death is necessary for those family members left behind to realise their rights, including inheriting what is rightfully theirs.

In her next blog Anastasiia reviews how casualties are found, identified and returned in Ukraine.

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