Some of the 39 Russian soldiers from the 331st regiment who are known to have died
In any war, there are units that distinguish themselves and others that become symbolic of failure. The 331st Guards Parachute Regiment had high hopes of being the first, but now represents the disintegration of Russia’s plan for a quick war.
The regiment’s commanding officer, Col Sergei Sukharev, was killed in Ukraine on 13 March, and was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation medal. At his funeral, deputy defence minister Gen Yuri Sadovenko said the colonel “lived for the future, for the future of our people, a future without Nazism”.
Colonel Sergei SukharevIMAGE SOURCE,GTRK-KOSTROMA
Col Sergei Sukharev, commander of the Kostroma 331st regiment, was also killed
Casualties among Russian forces are not widely reported in Russia itself, but using open source material, the BBC has pieced together the story of their advance, and found that at least 39 other members of the elite 331st regiment have died.
The men were part of a column that advanced into Ukraine from Belarus, led by Russia’s airborne forces, known by the acronym VDV. Their presence underlined the priority of their objective – advancing on the capital, Kyiv.
That advance swiftly got drawn into a destructive stalemate in districts on the outskirts of Kyiv which soon became synonymous with the viciousness of the war: Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel.
Videos that emerged online from these battles showed combat vehicles used by Russian airborne forces with “V” signs painted onto them.
A tank marked with a VIMAGE SOURCE,TWITTER
One video we found shows several damaged light armoured vehicles from the VDV, abandoned after an attack by Ukrainian special forces. Another shows several vehicles from the Russian airborne forces apparently abandoned.
The men in the 331st regarded themselves as the pick of Russia’s army. In a video posted online last May, a general tells soldiers of the 331st Parachute Regiment that they are “the best of the best”. The unit served in the Balkans, Chechnya, and the 2014 Russian intervention in the Donbas region of Ukraine, and regularly took part in Red Square parades in Moscow.
The 331st was also a showcase for Russia’s policy of replacing national service soldiers with contraktniki – professionals under contract. It is understandable why the generals should have given it an important role in the invasion.
A comment on a post mourning Maj Sergei Krylov reads: “We are proud of you, thank you for supporting peace. Russian hero Major Krylov. RIP” – this post is no longer publicIMAGE SOURCE,VK.COM
A comment on a post mourning Maj Sergei Krylov reads: “We are proud of you, thank you for supporting peace. Russian hero Major Krylov. RIP” – this post is no longer public
From early March, reports began to circulate of deaths in the 331st. It took time for bodies to be returned to Kostroma, the community where it is based, 300km north-east of Moscow.
As the funerals started, an anguished conversation began playing out on social media. Memorial walls on V’Kontakte – the Russian equivalent of Facebook – pledge “eternal memory” and feature pictures of candles.