Buryat Soldiers in Ukraine: Russia’s Expendable Far-Eastern Warriors


    Putin’s meatgrinder is being fed by society’s overlooked and disenfranchised.

    Russia’s ethnic minorities are being killed disproportionately in Ukraine a 2023 report by Demographic Research has revealed. [Source] The distribution of Russia’s staggering casualties suggests that the poorest and most vulnerable in Russian society are the ones paying the price for Putin’s ambitions. From remote ethnic minorities to convicts of serious crimes, Russia’s imperial mindset prioritises those closest to the court in Moscow.

    Buryats, the native people of Buryatia, have been among the worst affected groups. The report by Demographic Research states that a man from Buryatia is seventy-five times more likely to be among Russian casualties than a man from Moscow. [Source] Russia’s Mongolic and Turkic minority groups, such as the Buryats, are overrepresented in Russian Far-Eastern units. These units also happen to be consistently deployed to the most deadly sectors of the frontline in Ukraine. 

    This article will focus on Buryatia and the price their people have paid for Moscow’s ambition.

    1.0 Who are the Buryats?

    1.1 An Introduction to Buryatia

    Buryatia, officially the Republic of Buryatia, is located in the Russian Far East. The capital of Buryatia, Ulan-Ude is 4,420 kilometres east of Moscow, the equivalent of a seven-day drive. The republic is home to the indigenous Buryats, a Mongolic ethnic group, who trace their ancestry back to the nomadic people of the Eurasian Steppe. The Buryat people are mostly found within the borders of the Russian Federation having been conquered and incorporated by Tsarist Russia in the Seventeenth Century. Today in Russia there are an estimated 461,389 Buryats. The majority of Buryats live in the Republic of Buryatia, with sizeable minorities in Irkutsk Oblast and Zabaykalsky Krai. [Source]

    2.0 Why are Buryats disproportionately dying in Ukraine?

    2.1 High enlistment rates

    The lands of the Buryat people are amongst Russia’s most underdeveloped. A victim of Russia’s unequal growth following the Soviet collapse, the average GDP per capita in Buryatia is only $4,300 compared to $24,000 in Moscow. [Source] In Buryat communities enlisting in the military was therefore a relatively prosperous and prestigious path.

    “Buryatia is one of the poorest regions in all of the Russian Federation. Traditionally, the military is a steady job,” Professor Mellissa Chakars an expert on Buryatia told CBC in 2022


    The sparsely populated Russian Far East has the highest proportion of military bases per person of any region in Russia. Given the concentration of Russia’s ethnic minorities in this region and the lack of opportunities available to them, the Russian armed forces disproportionately conscripts from these groups [source]. Nonetheless, a military career was seen by many Buryats as a way out of regional hardships and a means of social mobility. Few however likely believed they would ever actually see the horrors of war.

    A village in rural Buryatia.
    A village in Buryatia. Rural Buryat communities are amongst Russia’s most deprived. [source]

    2.2 Chaotic and forced mobilisation

    In September 2022, Putin announced the mobilisation of 300,000 Russian citizens. This followed the collapse of Russian lines near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. The mobilisation order was carried out with haste as many Russian citizens fled to avoid the draft. In Buryatia, the draft notices were delivered chaotically door to door. The Free Buryatia Foundation (FBF) has described the mobilisation as being more like a “raid” [source].

    “We were given a verbal order to pull the mobilised from their beds, put them in buses, and bring them to the centre immediately,” said an anonymous employee of one of the district administrations of Buryatia in 2022.


    In the first 24 hours, Mediazona reported that between 3,000 and 5,000 men were mobilised in Buryatia. Mobilisation officers deliberately targeted small rural Buryat villages. This FBF claim is because the protest potential of these remote communities is far lower than in metropolitan areas such as Moscow. [source] In Buryatia, Russian authorities contravened mobilisation guidelines, dragging men with more than three children, several men from the same family and disabled former veterans. [source] [source]

    “They were so cunning, acted swiftly so that the people would not have a chance to prepare,” a Buryat activist and blogger named Bair told Mediazona in 2022. “It looked like some police operation. It’s kinda like the times of the Second World War,”


    2.3 Discriminatory and politically motivated deployment

    Throughout 2022 and 2023, Russian commanders consistently deployed Far-Eastern units to the deadliest and most attritional sectors of the Ukrainian frontline. Russia’s deployment strategy has treated Far-Eastern units as more expendable. According to FBF, Russia’s deployment of Far-Eastern units is deliberate and motivated by an imperial mindset. The foundation also claims that “savage” Mongol stereotypes allow Russians to quickly attribute war crimes to ethnic minorities, deflecting blame away from Moscow. [source]

    3.0 Operational History of notable Russia’s Far Eastern units in Ukraine

    List of notable Russian Units from the Russian Far East and the number of enlisted personnel in February 2022 [source]:

    • 37th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade – 2204 troops
    • 38th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade – 2186 troops
    • 64th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade – 2226 troops

    3.3.1 Kyiv – February/March 2022

    In February 2022, the 37th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade led the disastrous Russian ground assault on Kyiv. Based in Ulan-Ude, the 37th was known to mostly consist of Buryats reportedly being the only Russian unit with a Buddhist Lama serving as a military chaplain. [source] In Ukraine, Russian commanders tasked the 37th with surrounding Kyiv by capturing highways to the cities south.

    A group of Buryats gather in ceremony before entering battle In Ukraine.
    Russian Buryat soldiers holding a Buddhist ceremony in Ukraine. [source]

    The advance of the 37th culminated in a deadly assault on the Kyiv suburb of Marakiv, where an armoured detachment of the 37th was destroyed in a “suicidal” advance. [source] [source] The Ulan-Ude based unit reportedly lost 50% of its men in Kyiv. In March 2022, the demoralised 37th hit headlines when it was reported that demoralised elements of the unit had intentionally run over their own commander who later died of his injuries. [source]

    Image of the 5th Separate Tank Brigade, 2015. The 5th lost 50% of its vehicles at Marakiv in March 2022. [source]

    3.3.2 The Bucha Massacre – March 2022

    On 1 April 2022, reports emerged revealing war crimes committed by Russian troops in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Whilst the battle for Kyiv raged, the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, a unit from Khabarovsk Krai, occupied the town of Bucha. Being a Far-Eastern unit, the massacre at Bucha quickly became associated with “savage Buryats.” Despite later reports revealing that less than two per cent of the 64th identified as Buryat, the association stuck because it played into existing racial stereotypes.[source]

    “The worst elements of our society are fighting in Ukraine: poor people and Buryats” Olga Guseva, a prominent Russian anti-Kremlin critic


    In Eastern Europe, the term “Buryat” is often a catch-all term for Russia’s Far-Eastern minorities. The Buryat’s Mongolic heritage frequently creates associations with the Thirteenth Century Mongol invasion. The Russian education system stresses the barbarity of the Mongol invasion and how it was a calamity for the Slavic people. This popular image of Russia’s Far East has therefore created the stereotype of the barbarous “savage” Buryat. [source]

    The pervasiveness of the Mongolian stereotype was exemplified in November 2022 when Pope Francis openly stated:

    “The cruellest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryats and so on,”


    While Moscow has claimed that the Bucha Massacre was “fake” and “staged”, anti-Kremlin Russian nationalists have used minorities to divert blame away from white Russians. Within Russian society there still exists an imperialist entitlement, a hangover from the Tsarist and Soviet eras. Not unlike Ukraine, Moscow believes that it has a historical right to dominate Buryatia and to exploit its people for its own ambitions.

    3.3.3 Izyum – May/June 2022

    Following their withdrawal from Kyiv, the 64th and 38th Separate Motorised Rifle Brigades were redeployed to Izyum, Kharkiv Oblast. In June 2022, Russian military bloggers claimed the units had taken “significant” losses in wooded areas near Izyum. [source] The Institute for War reported that an incompetent Russian leader had failed to account for the difficulties created by the terrain and only 100 soldiers remained from the two units. Consequently, both units refused to carry on hostilities in Ukraine. [source]

    For reference, a single Separate Motorised Rifle Brigade typically consisted of 2100-2200 prior to the Russian invasion. [source] With the brigades suffering a combined 95% casualties rate, ISW claimed that even Wagner PMC refused to fight in the area. [source]

    3.3.4 Vuhledar – Staromlynska Axis – October 2022 – Present 

    Having been nearly decimated near Kyiv, the 37th Separate Motorised Rifle Brigade was redeployed to the Vuhledar in 2022. [source][source] Russia launched a series of unsuccessful assaults on Vulhedar during its 2022-23 winter offensive. An obituary dedicated to a native Buryat suggests elements of the 37th likely assaulted Vuhledar.

    The Ukrainian Defence Ministry noted that the battle for Vulhedar was especially bloody, with Ukrainian forces claiming to have killed nearly 1,100 troops in one day on 12 March 2023. [source]

    Following a Russian armoured assault, the area around Vuhledar became a tank graveyard, April 2023. [source]

    During the summer of 2023, the 37th was likely positioned to halt the Berdyansk axis of the Ukrainian summer counter-offensive. The 37th is confirmed to have lost 12 armoured vehicles between June and November in the Staromlynska-Novodonetsk region. [source] These losses represent over a third of the unit’s total wartime losses. Therefore without accurate personnel loss rates, we can deduce that the 37th was once again involved in high-intensity combat and likely suffered high casualties as a result. [source]

    4.0 Conclusion  

    Russian society as a whole has of course paid a substantial price for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As of March 2024, Russian casualties amount to over 425,000 personnel according to Ukrainian estimates. [source] The war is likely exacerbating Russia’s post-Soviet demographic decline with the country’s working-age population filling the ranks of the armed forces. [source] The future of Russia is dying in the fields of Ukraine.

    Nevertheless, the demographic crisis facing Russia’s majority is incomparable to the existential threat facing Russia’s minority. Ethnic Russians comprise more than 80 per cent of the population yet they only make up 70 per cent of the casualties in Ukraine. [source] Fighting age men from Russia’s most vulnerable and endangered communities have therefore filled the deficit. The hardest hit minority are the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East, a collective name for 40 indigenous peoples. Making up less than 0.01 per cent of the Russian population, the Small Numbered Peoples account for 0.09 per cent of Russia’s casualties [source]

    Russian imperialism is not only destroying bodies, it’s destroying Russia’s cultural diversity. Putin has revitalised Russification to crush dissent among minority ethnic groups. [source] The Russian state is forcing Russian language and culture onto minority groups to encourage uniformity of thought. For example, ethnic minority languages are optional in Russian schools. In native regions, this has therefore allowed mandatory Russian lessons to relegate minority languages to second-class status.[source] Denying natives their own language prevents them from accessing and embracing what makes them culturally unique. 

    The overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in Ukraine is both an insight into Russia’s post-soviet failures and also a reflection of how Moscow perceives itself as an imperial overlord.

    Jake Cremin
    Jake Cremin
    Jake Cremin is an Intelligence Analyst specialising in the Russo-Ukraine War and Western Defence. Jake holds a Masters in Intelligence and Security Studies from Brunel University London as well as BA in Military and International History. His research interests are Western Defence, West African Security and Terrorism.

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