Ever since Russia decided to invade Ukraine the images have been pouring out. From official government footage to members of the military, militias, and civilians came pouring in. This large database of footage helps tell the tale of the war as it happened. While a painful situation for Ukraine right now, people can learn more about troop movements, sizes, military planning, and execution.
This mind of history lesson comes at a great cost. While Ukrainian lives have also been a part of that cost, the equipment being left behind tells the biggest tale, and it is being tracked by a team of part-time trackers. Titled Oryx Blog, the roster currently features 2,055 Russian military vehicles. These vehicles have been destroyed, abandoned, or captured by Ukrainian forces. That number comes in the way of 331 tanks, 235 armored fighting vehicles, 313 infantry fighting vehicles, and 40 surface-to-air missile systems among others.
What makes Oryx Blog so unique is that they are only counting documented and verified pieces of equipment. They compare footage to other footage they have in their database as well as things like EXIF data which tells the tale behind the camera. This system is very time-consuming and labor-intensive. While it does not capture the complete numbers, it is one of the most detailed and well-done databases for the conflict to date. Especially as the donations they receive via Patreon are being pushed right back out to helping Ukrainian civilians and aren’t going back into their pockets or towards production.
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and former US marine has been keeping up with their efforts. He believes that these documents can tell you just as much about how the war is going currently as it can about the future. “At a certain point, the losses become so significant that it affects their ability to operate. When you can see there is a division’s worth of equipment being lost, or multiple regiments, in one area, the overall operation is going to suffer. It tells you their ability to do certain things offensively in the future is pretty limited because they probably don’t have the numbers.”
This kind of intelligence gathering is significant, and something that was not as readily available to the US during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Americans and our allies documented everything possible, the lack of knowledge about exactly how well equipped and how reinforced the enemy was made a big difference in how things played out.
One of the Oryx analysts Stijn Mitzer has been very outspoken about what this footage means. “For every killed soldier you see, a family has been torn apart, a gap created that will never be filled. Footage of a tank that suffers a catastrophic detonation looks impressive, but it also results in the end of three lives. Soldiers that probably never wanted this war. Soldiers that have a family and dreams just like you and me.” Those who have seen war know his words to be true.
No matter how you feel about your enemy on the battlefield, they are still someone to respect. They had a family. They had friends. They had unrealized plans, that now will never be fulfilled. Family members are left with nothing but the memories they made, and with more questions than answers. By completing this tracker, they can give people closure. While Ukrainian losses are not stocking up as high (in part due to their lack of footage for their losses) they are still stockpiling, and people are being left without answers. Filling in any gaps they can is a way to not only track the battles, but to potentially provide closure for their families.