Ukrainian military officials said Thursday that the Russian military is burning its own dead to conceal the scale of combat losses for the country, further muddying the already unreliable estimates of Russian casualties so far in the war.
The claim, posted to a Ukrainian military Facebook page, says Russian forces had set up a mobile crematorium outside of Tokmak, a small city of about 32,000 people situated on the Molochna River in southeastern Ukraine.
The city has been under Russian occupation since last March, and has been subject to repeated offensives by Ukrainian forces since last summer, including a strike in January that resulted in an estimated 80 casualties on the Russian side, according to The Kyiv Independent.
The total number of dead is likely to be obscured, however. Ukrainian military officials reported seeing a mobile crematorium set up in the city, leaving the dead difficult to account for.
The main indicator, the Ukrainian military reported, was the smell.
“Locals complain of a constant corpse stench in the southeastern part of the city, especially at night,” Ukrainian officials wrote Thursday on Facebook.
With bodies burning, it is likely the only true tally of Russian dead is accounted for by the Russians themselves, and has remained a closely guarded secret since the start of the war. Ukrainian estimates are also unreliable, typically tracking higher than the total number of casualties overall.
In an update on Thursday, Ukraine’s armed forces claimed Russia had lost 910 troops on Wednesday, bringing the total number of Russian dead since the start of the war to 135,010, including 2,850 over the last three days, after cresting over the 100,000 mark last year.
Meanwhile, Western officials estimate that Russia is approaching 200,000 casualties—including killed and wounded—since the war officially commenced on February 24 of last year.
The increasing death toll comes amid what appears to be increasingly public criticism of the war and its objectives on Russian state television as levels of Western aid have begun to increase. The United States recently pledged additional tanks to Ukraine, while its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has continued a tour of the country’s allies in Western Europe in an effort to secure more aid.
However, Ukraine has continued to remain under relentless fire from Russian forces in the contested city of Bakhmut, while an assessment published by the Institute for the Study of War on Wednesday said Moscow is preparing its “next major offensive” in the Ukrainian region of Luhansk, which is already largely controlled by Russian forces.