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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Ukraine Body Count

During the invasion of Iraq starting in 2003, an independent organisation established a method of counting the number of deaths caused by war using the most reliable possible methods. This project was undertaken because it soon became manifest in the war that the media was not a reliable source for counting the number of dead, unless their data was subject to statistical and other scrutiny; and neither were governments, who had various incentives to over-estimate and under-estimate casualty numbers. So this organisation tried a new method to calculate confirmed deaths in the course of the invasion of Iraq, in circumstances in which information was very unreliable. It was called "Iraq Body Count". In fact it still exists to this day, some nineteen years later, because people are still dying as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Wars and invasions tend to cause deaths over a long period.

Iraq Body Count was premised upon a number of principles, some of the most important of which will be laid out here.

1. It counted only violent deaths - in other words, deaths directly caused by the use of weapons or one person attacking another or a group of people. Hence, because it wished to be conservative, so that nobody could accuse the project of over-counting deaths, bias or hysteria, it excluded certain sorts of deaths: for example people dying of old age, starvation, or regular illnesses during the war.

2. The method used in counting was/is to trawl media sources for descriptions of numbers of deaths arising out of violent incidents. Where two or more media sources recorded a number of violent deaths, that number would be added to the database, save where it was transparent that the two or more media sources all had the same primary source. The premise was that a single primary source is unreliable; whereas two primary sources counting the same number of deaths added an element of reliability to the number and hence it would be included in the project's statistics.

3. As much information would be included about each violent death, or incident of violent deaths, as possible. The categories of information that would be included in the database would include (a) location of death; (b) date of death; (c) cause of death; (d) details of at least two sources; (e) names and other identifying details of the dead, where possible.

4. The project would be confined to civilian deaths, on the basis that armies are in a better position to count their own dead than is a civilian data-acquisition project.

In practice, to run a project of this kind, one needs the following:

5. A start date. This would surely be 24 February 2022, the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

6. A piece of Python code (Python is a high-level programming language that works with website data amongst other things) and/or any other programming language that can access SQL ('Systematic Query Language'), that crawls online media reports for reports of civilian deaths in the international media on an ongoing basis.

7. A series of volunteers, because whenever the Python and/or other programming code identifies a violent civilian death reported at least twice in the international online media, a human element is required to assess whether the two or more reports have the same primary source. This is something it is not possible for the Python and/or other programming code itself to undertake reliably. Python / other programming codes, using SQL, may also flag false results, depending on how clearly the media reports the code collects distinguish between civilian and military deaths; and between violent deaths and other deaths.

The PALADINS therefore intend to establish a piece of Python and/or other programming code that accesses SQL, to do the job; and a staff to review the work the code produces.

We at The PALADINS are currently seeking the following volunteers:

8. A Python or other programming language coder, who can write the relevant SQL code (we anticipate it taking five to ten hours) that crawls media websites from 24 February 2022 onwards on an ongoing basis, for dual reporting of violent civilian death in the war in Ukraine (we will limit all deaths to those taking place on the territory of Ukraine); and

9. A series of volunteers, three to five in the first instance, who can review programming language coding reports manually and conclude whether the reports more likely than not have the same primary source (in which case they will be excluded unless and until a media report with a second primary source is found); or whether there is more than one primary source for the same story, in which case the volunteers will be invited to enter the violent deaths into The PALADINS database of violent deaths in the Ukraine conflict, with as much information as is possible under the categories described above.

There is currently slightly more than one month of backlog; but volunteers would be free to review materials at their leisure. What is important however is to write the Python and/or other programming language code as soon as possible, so that the backlog does not get any worse.

This is a distinct exercise from The PALADINS' Ukraine war crimes project, which is intended to record, with evidence, war crimes. War crimes can be committed against both civilians and military people as victims, and can be committed anywhere - not just in Ukraine. So this is quite a different project. Volunteers in the Ukraine War Crimes project need to have legal training, because the assessment of evidence and its categorisation amongst the legal rules of war needs somebody who understands how to weigh evidence. By contrast volunteers in this project, Ukraine Body Count, need either (a) IT experience either to prepare the necessary Python and/or other coding with SQL access; or (b) media skills to assess the code's output and to decide whether it meets the criteria of there being more than one primary source, set out in this post.

If you are interested in offering your services as a volunteer to this project, the Ukraine Body Count Project, then please email with a one-page maximum curriculum vitae. Working conditions are remote. Hours are as long or as little as you feel able to contribute. Training will be provided (one day). References will be provided in accordance with the abilities and efforts of the volunteers. Consideration will be given to all volunteers in respect of paid jobs as matters develop.

If you are willing to contribute to the Ukraine Body Count project, please email us at and we will respond to you explaining how we are able to accept your contributions, for which we are very grateful.

The value of accurately counting the dead is enormous. It disciplines armed forces, who know that their atrocities will be counted and that they may be held accountable. It disciplines politicians, for the same reason. It assists political scientists and other intellectuals in their work, in assessing just how serious the war in Ukraine is developing in comparison with other recent wars. It helps all of us to attain an element of objectivity and neutrality in dealing with subjects that attract the highest levels of emotional reactions.

If you think you can help this project, then please contact us as soon as possible to volunteer services. We sincerely appreciate every application, and every donation, to achieve valuable goals in analysing the war in Ukraine seriously and objectively.

Thank you --



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