Winning the drone war in Ukraine: The Ukraine War in data

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The Ukraine War in data: Winning the drone war

They are rapidly becoming some of the most important metrics in the war in Ukraine: How many drone weapons are the Russians sending over Ukrainian targets? And how many of those drones are the Ukrainians shooting down before they do their damage?

This week, Ukrainian military officials made an extraordinary claim: that for at least one weekend — the New Year’s weekend — their air defenses could boast a 100 percent success rate against incoming drones. Not one of the more than 80 drones that flew into Ukrainian territory in that time frame had made it through. The Ukrainians said the feat had been repeated Monday: 39 incoming drones on that day, and 39 drones shot down — more than half of them in the skies over the capital, Kyiv.

“Such results have never been achieved before,” a Ukrainian air force spokesman, Yurii Ihnat, told Ukrainian TV.

The consultancy Molfar, which tracks weapons systems and their use in the war, estimates that since September, Russia has fired more than 600 drones at Ukraine — most of them Iranian-made models of the unmanned aerial weapons. Combined with Russian missile strikes, the drones have caused heavy damage to Ukrainian infrastructure over the last three months and led to frequent power outages and shortages of potable water.

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In the initial weeks of the Russian barrage, the Ukrainian officials said their shoot-down rate was slightly higher than 70 percent; the recent improvement is likely due to the arrival in Ukraine of the U.S. NASAM air defense system.

There’s a financial metric to consider here: the New York Times quoted Artem Starosiek, the head of Molfar, as saying that the Iranian drones can cost as little as $20,000, while the price tag for firing one of the surface-to-air missiles used by Ukraine ranges from $140,000 for a Soviet-era S-300 to $500,000 for a U.S.-made NASAM. In other words, the punch is relatively cheap; the counterpunch expensive.

For the moment, however, the metric that matters is the high rate of success — and the infrastructure that goes undamaged as a result.

We offer a more comprehensive set of data points on the war in Ukraine below. Grid originally published this document March 24, the one-month anniversary of the war. We update it every Thursday to provide a fuller picture of the conflict.

Civilians killed: at least 6,900 (probably thousands more)

On June 7, a Ukrainian official said at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed or wounded since the war began. The official offered no breakdown of dead versus wounded civilians. The United Nations’ latest estimate of civilians killed is more than 6,900, but it consistently notes the figure is an underestimate, as is its estimate of total casualties — a combination of deaths and injuries — given as more than 17,000. (Updated Jan. 4; source, source, source.)

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Ukrainian soldiers killed: at least 13,000

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, estimated in early December that 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began. In early November, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, estimated that both sides had seen about 100,000 soldiers killed or injured. (Updated Dec. 7; source, source.)

Russian soldiers killed: 5,937 to more than 108,000

From the early days of the war, casualty counts for Russian soldiers have varied widely — depending on the source. Ukraine raised its estimate of Russian soldiers killed in the conflict to more than 108,000 on Wednesday. These numbers have been updated frequently through the Facebook page for the country’s General Staff of the Armed Forces. In its first update on casualties since March, Russia claimed in late September that there had been 5,937 Russian military deaths. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in April that there had been “significant losses of troops, and it’s a huge tragedy for us.”

A report by Meduza, an independent Russian media outlet, and the Russian branch of the BBC confirmed at least 10,000 dead Russian soldiers as of Dec. 9.

Russia has also suffered a high rate of casualties among senior officers. Thirteen Russian generals have been killed, according to Ukrainian authorities; the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency puts the figure at eight to 10. Grid’s Tom Nagorski and Joshua Keating previously reported on the possible explanations for this “inconceivable” toll: poor communications and command-and-control structures within the Russian military. (Updated Jan. 4; source.)

Total displaced Ukrainians: approximately 14 million

There are more than 7.9 million Ukrainian refugees currently reported in other European countries. United Nations data indicates more than 17 million Ukrainians have crossed the border since the start of the war, but millions have returned home, largely from Poland, as Nikhil Kumar and Kseniia Lisnycha reported. In late October, the International Organization for Migration’s latest survey of internally displaced Ukrainians found more Ukrainians returning home from within Ukraine, but 5.9 million remained displaced within their own country. (Updated Jan. 4; source; source.)

Internally displaced Ukrainians: approximately 5.9 million

An overview of the violence


Global food markets: Wheat prices down as of Wednesday, after weeks of fluctuation

Recent Grid coverage

Learn more: Grid’s 360s on the Ukraine War

  • Alex Leeds Matthews
    Alex Leeds Matthews

    Data Visualization Reporter

    Alex Leeds Matthews is a data visualization reporter at Grid.

  • Tom Nagorski
    Tom Nagorski

    Global Editor

    Tom Nagorski is the global editor at Grid, where he oversees our coverage of global security, U.S.-China relations, migration trends, global economics and U.S. foreign policy.

  • Justin Rood
    Justin Rood

    Investigations Editor

    Justin Rood is the investigations editor for Grid, overseeing our team of award-winning investigative and data reporters.

  • Mariana Labbate
    Mariana Labbate

    Global Editorial Assistant

    Mariana Labbate is the editorial assistant for Grid's Global team.