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Russian soldier death rate highest since first week of war

A Ukrainian soldier walks in Bakhmut this week. Of the 50,000 people who lived in the city before the war, only 2,000 remain
By Laura Gozzi
BBC News
BBC News Link

Russian soldiers are dying in greater numbers in Ukraine this month than at any time since the first week of the invasion, according to Ukrainian data.

The Ukrainian data shows 824 Russian soldiers dying per day in February.

The figures were highlighted by the UK's Ministry of Defence. The figures cannot be verified - but the UK says the trends are "likely accurate".

The increase comes as Ukrainian officials say that Russia has launched a "big offensive".

However, the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (NSDC), Oleksiy Danilov, also said Russia is experiencing "big problems" with the campaign.

"Our troops are repulsing [the offensive] very strongly," Mr Danilov said. "The offensive they planned is already taking place, gradually, but it's not the offensive they imagined."

Last week, Ukraine's outgoing defence minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said they were anticipating a new Russian offensive around 24 February - the anniversary of the full-scale invasion.

Some of the fiercest fighting has been around Bakhmut in the east of the country.

On Sunday, the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary force said the group had seized a settlement near the devastated city.

Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Telegram: "Today, the settlement of Krasna Hora was taken by assault detachments of the Wagner PMC."

Mr Prigozhin also gave his group credit for the offensive on Bakhmut, downplaying the Russian army's role: "Within a radius of 50 km, plus or minus, there are only Wagner PMC fighters," he wrote.

The statement hints at longstanding tensions between the Russian military and Wagner.

When the town of Soledar was taken in January, Mr Prigozhin claimed his fighters were in full control there boasted that only his troops took part - a claim the Russian defence ministry questioned.

Bakhmut's strategic importance has been questioned, but the prolonged fighting has turned it into a symbolic prize.

According to the Ukrainian data, highlighted by the UK, 824 Russian losses a day is more than four times the rate reported in June and July, when around 172 Russian soldiers died each day.

The Ukrainian military claims 137,780 Russian military deaths since the full-scale invasion began.

The UK's MoD pointed out the recent increase could be due to "a range of factors, including lack of trained personnel, coordination, and resources across the front".

Ukraine "also continues to suffer a high attrition rate", the UK said.

Russian forces have made little progress in Ukraine since their retreat from the major southern city of Kherson last November.

Last month they captured the town of Soledar north of Bakhmut after an intense battle. Capturing Bakhmut could enable Russian forces to press on towards the bigger cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has appealed to Western countries to hurry sending heavy weaponry to Ukraine to help Ukraine repel Russia's expected offensive.

The US agreed last week to send long-range missiles that would enable Ukraine to double its attack range.

But President Zelensky wants the West to send fighter jets - saying during a visit to the UK Parliament this week that he was "thanking you all in advance for powerful English planes".

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