At least 39 soldiers from an elite Russian military regiment have been killed and hundreds more understood to be wounded, missing or taken prisoner, according to the BBC. In a devastating blow to President Vladimir Putin, fighters from the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment have been forced to retreat back into Belarus after failing to take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Soldiers in the 331st Regiment are nicknamed “Vladimir Putin’s best fighters” and are considered to be one of Russia’s elite units.
An investigation on BBC Newsnight showed the catastrophic losses in the unit.
Mark Urban, the BBC Newsnight diplomatic and defence editor, told viewers: “Elements of the airborne task force were filmed withdrawing back into Belarus.
“Having failed to surround the city, they may now head for the Donbas.
“Ukrainian claims that they have entirely wiped out the regiment are exaggerated.
“But, we have been able to establish 39 names of soldiers killed in Ukraine.”
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He continued: “There is a delay in the release of that information of at least two weeks and the real figure may be close to 100.
“That would be well above the number of people from the regiment killed in the nine-year-long Afghan war.
“Factoring in the badly injured, the missing and prisoners, the 331st – 1,500 strong – may have suffered casualties of around a third of its strength in just a few weeks of war.”
Locals in Kostroma, where the regiment is based, told Newsnight that around 100 members of the regiment may have died.
The regiment had previously served in the Chechen conflicts and the 2014 War in Donbas and regularly took part in Red Square parades in Moscow.
In a speech last May, a top Russian general told the soldiers of the 331st Regiment that they were “the best of the best”.
On social media memorial pages of the soldiers, one woman wrote: “Nobody knows anything. The 331st regiment is disappearing.
“Almost every day, photos of our Kostroma boys get published. It sends shivers down my spine. What’s happening? When will this end? When will people stop dying?”
Another woman asked: “Why aren’t children of MPs not on the frontline? The majority of them live in Europe anyway. Ordinary boys are dying for no good reason.”
The losses come as Ukrainian officials confirmed today that the country’s forces have recaptured the whole region around Kyiv.
Ukraine’s deputy defence minister said the region had been “liberated from the invader”.