Elena Vasilyeva, chairwoman of Cargo 200, a rights group monitoring the Ukraine war, claimed she has compiled a list containing the names of 300 Russian servicemen killed in action, with thousands more unaccounted for.
The term “Cargo 200” is now used by the mothers of Russian servicemen to refer to the transport of bodies from Ukraine in zinc coffins.
The claims of high Russian casualties came as renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine shattered an uneasy ceasefire and left 13 people dead, including nine Ukrainian servicemen.
Moscow has issued frequent denials of military involvement in the war in neighbouring Ukraine – a former Soviet republic – preferring to describe the conflict as a “civil war”.
Despite the Kremlin’s claims of innocence, evidence is mounting to support Ukrainian claims that the Russian army is playing a major and direct role in the war.
“We have the specific names of 300 who have died in Ukraine, and the list continues to grow,” Ms Vasilyeva told the Ukrainian press. “In the last three days we have received information on eight more deaths.” She added that the Russian authorities tended to attribute the deaths to training-ground accidents.
“In many cases the [Russian] mothers believe the government’s propaganda that the army is on manoeuvres,” explained Ms Vasilyeva.
“The mainstream media tends to gloss over the deaths but the regional media is beginning to write about them as it is out in the provinces that the Cargo 200s often end up.”
On Tuesday the European Union said the sanctions imposed on Russia because of its Ukraine policy would remain in place. Brussels had said that if the peace plan that silenced most of the guns in eastern Ukraine worked, it would lift the sanctions.
But the EU said some aspects of the plan still needed to be “properly implemented” before sanctions could be lifted, and that it would continue to “monitor developments on the ground”.
Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, said he expected Moscow to respect the agreement’s terms “and withdraw its forces” from eastern Ukraine and also “ensure the border’s closure”.
Kiev and the Moscow-backed insurgents put their names to the 12-point peace plan in Minsk on 5 September in the hope of a bringing an end to the conflict that has claimed around 3,200 lives, but the recent outbreak of bloodshed has put the plan’s health and viability in question.
The renewed violence has also cast further doubts over the possibility of holding Ukraine’s general election in the war-torn east on 26 October. The parliamentary election is seen as vital for Ukraine, as it could provide it with a new government with a clear and democratic mandate to bring peace.
But if no vote takes place in areas under insurgent control, some may regard any new government as illegitimate and use that as an excuse for further military action against Kiev.
Meanwhile, Russia’s legal authorities said they were investigating unspecified Ukrainians on charges of “genocide”.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said in a statement it had “opened a criminal case into the genocide of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine’s south-east.
“Unidentified representatives of Ukraine’s senior political and military leadership, National Guard and the Right Sector [a nationalist organisation] gave orders aimed at the intentional annihilation of the Russian-speaking citizens,” the statement continued.