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Leaked audio: Russian officer says half his soldiers have frostbite

A view from a street corner in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, April 2013. (Olexandr17, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
March 23, 2022

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military shared what it said was an intercepted call from a Russian officer leading invading troops in the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv who said half of his troops had frostbite. He added that they were struggling to evacuate their dead and provide enough tents for those still alive.

Russian-born American cybersecurity executive Dmitri Alperovitch tweeted the Ukrainian military’s alleged recording of the Russian officer. “Fascinating claimed intercepted call from Russian officer near Mykolaiv to superiors in Russia. He says: This is worse than Chechnya. 50% of troops have frostbite. They can’t evacuate the dead. Don’t have enough tents. RU plane dropped a bomb on their own position.”

“One column was hit with Grad rockets. Can’t even figure out if it was friendly fire,” Alperovitch continued, translating the alleged Russian officer’s remarks. “Medics only have bandages. Can’t help with frostbite. No hot stove. Digging trenche[s] to sleep in. Commander of 49th CAA told troops on 4th day that war will be over in hours.”

During an official background press call on Tuesday, a U.S. military official also said the U.S. has assessed Russian troops are suffering from frostbite

“We’ve picked up some indications that some of their soldiers are suffering from frostbite because they lack the appropriate cold-weather gear for the environment that they’re in,” the senior defense official said. “They haven’t — in addition to food and fuel, even in terms of personal equipment for some of their troops they’re having trouble, and we’ve picked up indications that some troops have actually suffered and taken out of the fight because of frostbite.”

There have been weeks in a row where daily low temperatures fell below freezing in Mykolaiv in March, including several days in a row where temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frostbite typically will set in rapidly in extremely cold conditions with high winds, however, lengthy periods of exposure to temperatures below 31 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to frostbite, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

It is unclear what the overall effect frostbite and lack of supplies have had on Russian forces in Ukraine overall.

As of Wednesday, Ukraine assessed that around 15,600 Russian troops had been killed nearly a month of fighting so far.

The Wall Street Journal reported the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) estimates as of Wednesday the number of Russian troops killed, wounded, captured or missing so far in the fighting at around 40,000. NATO calculated between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troop deaths and, using statistical averages from past conflicts, and estimated that for every soldier’s death, around three more are wounded or otherwise taken out of the fighting.