An elite airborne Russian military unit has seen significant losses amid the war in Ukraine, so much so that one military analyst said that it was “absolutely annihilated” at one point in the offensive, according to The Moscow Times.
The Times tracked and reconstructed the movements of the 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade over the past several months in a report released as the Russia-Ukraine War hit 100 days Friday. The unit was among those sent to help gain control of the Ukrainian town of Hostomel, a suburb of Kyiv, in early March, according to an assessment from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) cited by the Times. In the resulting conflict that saw Ukraine fighting to hold off Russia’s advancement, “Russia’s elite forces were absolutely annihilated,” said Nick Reynolds, a military analyst at the British think tank Royal United Services Institute.
The 100-day mark of the war is notable because when Russia initially invaded Ukraine on February 24 with its focus on the capital of Kyiv and surrounding areas, U.S. officials predicted a swift Russian victory. But Ukraine launched a passionate counteroffensive, eventually spurring Russia to switch its focus to the eastern Donbas region, home to the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which Russia has recognized as independent. The reported heavy losses in the elite Russian airborne regiment reflect a larger deterioration of the country’s image as a superior military power throughout these months of war.
Before the unit’s purported advance on Hostomel in early March, the 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade was “likely” at the Hostomel military airport fighting against Ukrainian forces, according to the February 24 ISW assessment. Ukraine was ultimately successful in preventing Russia from seizing full control of the airfield.
The independent Russian news outlet Mediazona calculated that the 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade has lost at least 52 of its paratroopers in total, including 34 between February 25 and March 7. Hostomel and Volnovakha, a town located in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, were designated by Mediazona as the places of death for the paratroopers.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an April 3 Facebook post that “significant” personnel losses resulted in about 25 of the unit’s servicemen refusing to participate in the war, according to an English translation.
After Russia switched its focus to Donbas, some of the 31st Brigade were redeployed to the area around Izium in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region, The Moscow Times reported, citing a friend of a soldier in the brigade. Military analyst Rob Lee also told the Times that the unit’s remaining paratroopers who had been involved in the warfare around Kyiv were likely combined into one battalion tactical group in the east. Lee estimated that about 2,000 men from the brigade were sent to fight in Ukraine.
The brigade’s movements during the third month of the war were more difficult to designate, but the Times said that the unnamed friend informed the outlet that some of the brigade were aiding the Russian offensive around Severodonetsk in late May.