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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Factcheck: MEP Clare Daly ‘mistakenly’ cited wrong fatality figures for Russian invasion of Ukraine

Daly had also said that Ukraine had lost territory, citing Russian annexation declarations.

STATEMENTS MADE BY Irish MEP Clare Daly at the European Parliament about Ukraine have been repeated online, despite including a claim that Ukraine had lost territory in the last year, as well as an incorrect death toll figure.

Daly has since told The Journal FactCheck that she was mistaken in one of her figures. 

Here’s what happened. 

Daly’s statements were made at a 7 September hearing by the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (AFET/SEDE) in Brussels.

Addressing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who had spoken to the European Parliament on NATO-EU cooperation, Daly said: “You’ve said that Ukraine is gradually gaining ground. That’s not true.

“Since you were here the last time, Ukraine has lost territory, half a million men are dead,” Daly said, arguing they needed a peace plan to save Ukrainian lives.

Stoltenberg last addressed AFET/SEDE in Brussels, on 13 July 2022.

In an email to The Journal, a representative for Daly confirmed that this was the date that Daly was making her assessment from; her statement covered the period from July 2022 to September 2023.

Death counts

The half million figure repeated by Daly had come from The New York Times, which in August said that troop casualties during the fighting had risen to nearly 500,000, citing unnamed US officials. However, this figure includes injuries – not just deaths.

That report goes on to estimate that the number of deaths alone amounted to almost 190,000; about 120,000 of which were on the Russian side.

It should also be noted that these figures are since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022; Daly had told Stoltenberg it was “since you were here the last time”, which had been in July 2022.

When contacted by The Journal’s factcheck team, a representative said Daly had “mistakenly stated the casualty figure as a death count, having been shocked that Mr Stoltenberg’s presentation made scant reference to the human cost of the war”.

Other estimates give much lower figures for deaths in the conflict, though these are based on data from before the Ukrainian counter offensive which began in June and is believed to have caused a surge in the number of deaths and injuries. 

It is thought that both Russia and Ukrainian sources significantly exaggerate their opponent’s losses in public and off-the-record declarations.

A 7 September update by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense says that about 266,900 Russian personnel had been “eliminated” since February 2022, however the number is not broken down into service-ending injuries and deaths. The number of injuries vastly exceeds deaths in most modern conflicts. 

On 13 July 2022, when Stoltenberg had addressed AFET/SEDE, the number of “eliminated” Russian causalities reported by Ukraine was 37,570 — a difference of 229,550.

Russia claims

Putin has claimed that, since the beginning of Ukraine’s counter offensive in June, Ukraine had lost 71,500 personnel, according to a 12 September Russian report.

Prior to this, Russia did sporadically report on the number of Ukrainian losses, frequently estimating more than 10,000 personnel eliminated a month, but did not release a tally of cumulative estimated losses for Ukraine, nor did it break these figures down into injuries and deaths.

The latest estimate from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) shows that from “the start of the large-scale armed attack by the Russian Federation, to 10 September”, 9,614 civilian fatalities were recorded, and a further 17,535 civilians were injured.

However, its report does note that actual figures could be “considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration”.

In July 2022, the OHCHR estimate for civilian dead was 5,024, meaning the figure had risen by about 4,590 deaths since Stoltenberg last spoke to the AFET/SEDE committees.

However, Fox News reported in May that unnamed US officials had provided them with a figure of 42,000 Ukrainian civilian fatalities during the invasion.

Territorial losses?

Daly’s claim that “Ukraine has lost territory” is also puzzling. Stoltenberg’s prior address to AFET/SEDE was made shortly after the Battle of Kharkiv, and shortly before a hugely successful counter-offensive in Ukraine’s northeast that saw about 12,000 square thousand kilometres swiftly recaptured from Russian forces.

Since Stoltenberg’s prior address, Russian forces had also been pushed east of the Dnipro river in the south of Ukraine.

A representative for Clare Daly said that she “was referring to Russia’s decision to formally annex four provinces of Ukraine on 30 September 2022″.

“Although these annexations are illegal and unrecognised, they represent a political commitment by Russia, which realistically will now likely shape the post-war settlement to Ukraine’s disadvantage.”

Russia had claimed the annexation of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, despite Ukraine military control of substantial stretches of this territory. Ukraine has also recaptured Kherson City since these annexations were declared.  

Russia, North Korea, and Syria were the only countries to recognise the annexations.

At the AFET/SEDE event where Daly made the claims about Ukrainian territorial losses, Stoltenberg had responded to claims that Ukraine was failing to drive back the invasion.

“They are making progress,” Stoltenberg said. “Not perhaps as much as we hoped for, but they are gaining ground gradually, some 100 meters per day. Meaning that when the Ukrainians are gaining ground, the Russians are losing ground.

“When the invasion happened, the full-scale invasion, happened in February, we were told by most experts that Kyiv would fall within days, and Ukraine would fall within weeks.

“The Ukrainians proved them wrong by pushing back the Russian invaders, liberating the north, around Kyiv, the east around Kharkiv, and then bigger territories in the south and around Kherson. And now they are gaining more ground, liberating more Ukrainian territory.”

An idea of the extent of Ukrainian gains can be made by comparing maps showing what territory is controlled by which forces, made by the US-based Institute for the Study of War. One from July 2022 shows less Ukrainian-controlled territory than later maps from the time of Daly’s speech.

Similar maps that track territorial control released by media and open-source intelligence outlets also show that the front lines of the conflict has shifted as Ukraine has made gains in the last year. 

video timelapse made by AFP news agency, partly based on the Institute for the Study of War’s research, shows the changes in territorial control since the invasion, up until July of this year.

All these maps indicate that Ukraine has made significant territorial gains. 

A representative of Daly told The Journal: “Clare’s point (which could only be given in outline in the allotted speaking time) was that this – along with the staggering loss of life – might have been avoided if there had been efforts earlier on in 2022 to back serious negotiations to achieve Russia’s withdrawal from all of Ukraine.”

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.