By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under fire for publishing and then unpublishing a video containing what appears to be a very high estimate of killed Ukrainian military officers.
The backlash came after von der Leyen said in a video message on Wednesday (30 November)that an estimated 120,000 Ukrainians had been killed during Russia’s war.
“It is estimated that 20,000 civilians and more than 100,000 Ukrainian military officers have been killed so far,” von der Leyen said in the original version of the video, reshared later by Twitter users.
She did, however, not specify where the data came from.
The European Commission later deleted the video of von der Leyen’s speech, as well as its transcript, and republished both without the sentence containing the numbers.
A spokesperson for von der Leyen tweeted a correction within a few hours, stating that the original video had been edited because the 100,000 figure related to estimates of total casualties, including those killed but also the injured.
Though the spokesperson stressed that those initially came “from external sources”, she did not specify whether they had been checked with the Ukrainian side.
Military losses are usually categorised as irreversible (deaths) or medical cases and are rarely counted together.
The incident has raised eyebrows in Kyiv, which has been treating such data as a matter of national security, subject to wartime censorship, ever since Russia launched its invasion on 24 February.
Ukrainian authorities have so far refrained from confirming the number mentioned by the Commission president.
“We cannot confirm this figure, we emphasise that the losses of the Ukrainian army are classified information and are subject to restrictions on publication” Bohdan Senyk, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s armed forces, told Ukrainian outlet Ukrainska Pravda.
The European Commission attempted to clarify the incident after being pressed by reporters during a regular briefing on Thursday (1 December).
“Indeed, in an initial version of the communication, some figures were mentioned in regard to casualties, the aim being indeed that of showing the brutality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is known to everybody and which is important to expose,” said Dana Spinant, deputy spokesperson of the European Commission.
“n a subsequent version of the communication, we decided to exclude any figures to avoid focusing on figures, but on the very important task that we have had, together with our partners, and together with the Ukrainian authorities, which is that of holding Russia accountable,” she added.
Spinant declined to comment on whether the numbers had been consulted with the Ukrainian side.
At the same time, the issue was used by Russian state media to push Moscow’s narrative about heavy Ukrainian losses compared to their own.