‘Mothers will produce more sons’: Russia’s long history of sacrificing soldiers

Russian soldiers’ equipment. Kyiv region after one month of occupation. April 2022. (Credit: Maksym Khotilenko)

Poorly prepared operations, frontal attacks, wounded soldiers left on the battlefield. During the first two months of the invasion of Ukraine, the Russians lost an estimated 21,000 members of its troops. The horrific figures do not faze the Russian leadership in any way. After all, that's how they have always fought.


The Battle of Narva in 1700 was a terrible defeat for the Russian army against the Swedes in the Great Northern War. The battlefield was dotted with the bodies of the guards of Tsar Peter the Great. Dozens of Peter’s childhood friends, people he had grown up with, were killed. The story goes that seeing this carpet of corpses, Peter could not hold back tears. He was reassured by one of his closest associates. He put his hand on his shoulder and said: “Don't cry, my lord, Russian mothers will produce more sons.”

Hunger, cold, heat, and disease

Historical anecdote? It seems that every Russian war proves it to be true. All of 322 years on, the slogan “women will make more babies” ( “бабы еще нарожают”), could be engraved on the emblem of Russia’s armed forces.

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Narva (Gustaf Cederström). Russian force surrenders to the Swedish king. (Wikimedia Commons, free image depository)

Death on the march from hunger, cold, heat, or disease, killed during unprepared assaults or left to die wounded: these are the usual costs of every war. It's all about scale. Every war in Russia has been a bloody slaughter, including mass sacrifices of its own soldiers.

“There was no medical care at all… Soldiers who shed blood for the Motherland on the battlefield, the wounded lie in a rotten state on the ground, without clothes, without bedding and not receiving food to support their forces. We found a lot of people who haven't been bandaged since they were brought here.” – In the Rear of the Army. Kaluga Province in 1812 by Russian historian Vasiliy Assonov, 1912

Being a Russian soldier has always meant one thing: to die. Heroic, senseless and en masse. A typical example – one of hundreds – is the infantry attack in the Battle of the Black River, which occurred during the Crimean War in 1855.

“Artillery could not be crossed across the river, Russian battalions one by one crossed the drawbridges and the enemy mowed them down with deadly fire from behind fortified positions, leaving themselves almost unharmed…” – Crimean War by Russian historian Yevgeny Tarle, 1950

In just one day the Russians lost up to 10,000 soldiers. The enemy? Two hundred.

Red Army’s ‘dead meat’

In the Soviet Union, killing their own people was taken to a new level. In the Soviet-Finnish war of 1940, there were eight Red Army soldiers killed per Finn. In the Second World War, this ratio only increased. Until the last day of the war, Soviet generals overwhelmed their opponents with the bodies of their soldiers.

Dead Soviet soldiers and their equipment at Raate Road, Suomussalmi, after being encircled by the Finns. (Wikimedia Commons, free image depository)

“Marshal Zhukov gave me a matter-of-fact statement of his practice, which was, roughly, ‘there are two kinds of mines; one is the personnel mine and the other is the vehicular mine. When we come to a minefield our infantry attacks exactly as if it were not there…” – Wartime memoirs Crusade to Europe by 34th US President Dwight D. Eisenhower,  1948

In 1943, the Red Army liberated Ukraine from the Nazis. Men from the occupied territories were immediately thrown onto the battlefield. According to the generals, they had to wash away their “guilt” for submitting to occupation, with blood. These were the so-called “black jackets”, people who went to war in their everyday clothes and died in their thousands.

Soviet Marshal Konev later admitted that during the storming of Berlin in 1945 he lost 150,000 killed. The real numbers exceeded 300,000 dead. In one battle. By comparison,  total US military losses during the whole war were 290,000.

Now it is obvious that Russian generals honor the traditions of their ancestors. Every victory of theirs, as well as every defeat, is a bloody sacrifice. After all, the mindset of the Russian army has been unchanged for hundreds of years safe in the knowledge that “mothers will produce more sons”.