In the latest offensive to capture Avdiivka, a small city in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine reports that Russia lost over 6,000 soldiers in just one week.
This astonishing casualty rate has left many wondering why the Russian military seems willing to pay such a high price in their quest for territorial gains.
The answer to this question lies in the deep-rooted belief in sacrifice within the Russian psyche.
It is a belief that has been shaped by the historical memory of World War II, which saw an estimated 27 million Russians lose their lives. War and the idea of a glorious death have become an integral part of Russian culture.
Vladimir Putin, who was born in 1952, carries a family history that resonates with the sacrifices made during World War II. His two uncles perished on the front lines, his grandmother was shot by the Germans, his brother succumbed to hunger and malnutrition, and his father sustained severe injuries.
This history of sacrifice in his own family has made it easier for Putin to call upon the next generations to make their own contributions.
Modern Russia, under Putin’s leadership, has continued to embrace and reinvent this tradition. Many see the Russian military’s disregard for individual lives as a reflection of a national ethos that places a low value on an individual’s life in the service of the nation’s destiny.
Ben Soodavar, a researcher at King’s College London, suggests that for Russians, self-sacrifice in war is a pathway to martyrdom and a step toward achieving the dream of national prestige.
This willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice is deeply connected with Russian Orthodox Christianity, which elevates a death in battle to a sacred act that washes away all sins.
Russian schools play a role in reinforcing this idea of self-sacrifice. Since the conflict in Ukraine began in 2014, there has been an intensified focus on patriotic indoctrination programs, ensuring that the next generation continues to embrace the concept of self-sacrifice for the Motherland.
However, the burden of this sacrifice is not evenly distributed among the Russian population. Putin’s recruitment strategy often targets marginalized communities, both socioeconomically and racially.
By sending soldiers from remote villages and non-Russian ethnic groups to the front lines, Putin avoids the perception of high casualty rates in major urban centers, where knowledge is more readily disseminated.
In conclusion, the Russian spirit of sacrifice is deeply ingrained in the national psyche, shaped by the memory of past sacrifices, and reinforced through educational and cultural means.
This spirit has manifested in a high casualty rate in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, a testament to the enduring belief in self-sacrifice for the greater good of the nation.