What "Genocide of the Donbas People" Looked Like Over 8 Years Before the Full-Scale Invasion

Genocide of the Donbas People

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion, the number of civilian casualties in the Donetsk region increased tenfold.

One of the reasons declared by Vladimir Putin for Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was this so-called "genocide." "What is happening in Donbas is genocide," Putin stated, referring to the previously seized—by Russia—Ukrainian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where, in his view, Ukrainian forces systematically killed civilians. But how accurate are these claims?

We analyzed the numbers and, for greater accuracy, used data not from the UN or other authoritative organizations, often not recognized in Russia itself, but from Russian, often pro-government media and other sources. Even according to them, the facts declared by Putin do not align with reality.

But first, we need a definition: what does genocide mean? Genocide refers to deliberate actions aimed at the complete or partial destruction of national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. It has five specific criteria, one of which is the complete or partial extermination of a population.

What the numbers say

The numbers from different sources concerning civilians who died in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the years leading up to the full-scale war vary, but they are similar. Here are some examples.

According to the human rights commissioner in the so-called DPR:

  • 2020: 44 military and civilian deaths.

  • 2021: 77 military and civilian deaths.

The so-called DPR Ombudsman Darya Morozova provided the following figures for 2022:

  • 2021: 25 civilian deaths and 85 injuries.

These figures cover both Donetsk and Luhansk.

Morozova also uses UN data. According to her, citing UN data, 26 people died in Donbas in 2020, with another 123 injured. In 2019, the UN reported 25 deaths in Donbas.

Another source, the OSCE, provided the following data for the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions:

  • 2019: 19 deaths, 129 injuries.

  • 2020: 12 deaths, 62 injuries.

It's important to note that, according to Morozova, some people died not directly from combat but from interacting with unexploded ordnance, highlighting the lack of education on handling dangerous objects.

According to Putin, the numbers mentioned above resemble "genocide." In late February 2024, he declared the start of the war to essentially liberate these territories and bring peace. What has changed?

Using Russian sources again, the same Ombudsman, Darya Morozova provides the following figures:

  • 2022: 1,089 civilian deaths in the so-called DPR alone.

  • 2022: 424 children killed. In the previous eight years, 162 children were killed. Nearly 800 children were injured.

  • 2023: 363 people killed, 1,742 injured.

Morozova also provides overall civilian casualties for two years: 9,121 killed, 13,284 injured. This includes victims in the "liberated" (occupied) territories, indicating atrocities committed by the Russian army during its occupation.

What do these numbers tell us?

After the intense fighting between  2014-2016, there was no escalation in Eastern Ukraine, as noted by both Russian and international observers. The Ukrainian side sought peaceful resolutions to regain its territory according to the borders of 1991. This is evident in the fact that not a single civilian died in Crimea during this period.

Russia’s war initiated by Vladimir Putin has spread conflict everywhere. Civilian casualties have increased tenfold. Can we talk about genocide, which involves the complete or partial destruction of a population?

Since the war's onset in 2014, Ukraine has not destroyed any villages or cities. Russia, however, has destroyed dozens. Volnovakha, Pisky, Marinka, and Bakhmut no longer exist. Tens of thousands of people died in Mariupol within two months. There is systematic extermination of the Ukrainian population.

In 2024 alone, Ukraine conducted over 20 precise strikes on military targets in Crimea, focusing on military infrastructure. Since the full-scale invasion began, there have been hundreds of attacks on military infrastructure. Civilian casualties in June 2024 were due to Russia placing military objects near civilian areas, effectively using them as shields: a beach with vacationers located right next to a military target attacked by Ukraine. How does the Russian army operate? Daily bombings of Kharkiv and the region with large guided bombs targeting residential buildings.

Genocide is happening, but from the other side.

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