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As the War Between Russia and Ukraine Drags on, Many Families Start to Worry

By: Sunnie Gao

The number of deaths from the war in Ukraine is a state secret. In Russia, it is a crime to question the invasion or criticize the military. Independent journalists who speak to bereaved relatives or cover funerals have been arrested and told that showing such “tears and suffering” is bad for public morale. Authorities have ordered some online memorial pages to be shut down.

Hidden behind the exciting and positive government propaganda is the heart-wrenching grief felt by many families. Yevgeny Chubarin is one of those killed in the war. The 24- year-old stone-factory worker was persistent in participating in the war, even when his mother begged and cried for him not to go. By May 15, he had an AK-47 and was on his way and was killed the next day. This story is just one of many hidden behind the positive image of the war.

The Kremlin’s priority has been to prevent the angry voices of mourning families and antiwar activists from coming together and gaining traction. Information about war dead could discourage Russia’s increasingly urgent recruitment effort. The Kremlin has been scraping up prisoners with military experience and offering highly paid contracts for deployments.

In fact, international security agents visited Dmitry Shkrebets this summer after he accused Russian authorities of lying about how many sailors died when the Black Sea flagship Moskva was sunk by Ukrainian missiles. His son was one of the sailors labeled as missing. The agents accused Shkrebets of lying and confiscated his laptop. Finally, 111 days after Yegor’s death, the military finally gave his father a death certificate.

“It will never be easier. There will never be true joy. We will never be the same again.

We have become different. We have become more unhappy but also stronger [and] tougher. We no longer fear even those who should be feared,” Shkrebets wrote in a post.

With many families afraid to speak out and no credible causality count, independent media and rights groups have to keep their own tallies. And their numbers, based only on confirmed open-source death reports, are very modest. The independent Russian outlet Mediazona and BBC News Russian counted 5,185 war dead as of July 29.

Meanwhile, the CIA and British intelligence agency, MI6, estimates that at least 15,000 Russians have been killed since their country’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, a huge amount. And that was “probably a conservative estimate,” MI6 chief Richard Moore told the Aspen Security Forum last month.

Not many grieving families have questioned the war effort. However, cracks have started to form. In Buryatia, a group of wives of Russian soldiers made a video in June to demand that the military bring their men home, and hundreds of soldiers from the region contacted an activist group there for information on how to break their contracts.

Casualties are still rising daily on memorial pages, sadly. One day, there was an entry about the death of Zolto Chimitov, a corporal in his early 30s who had been born in the rural village of Tsakir. He became a boxing champion, later training to be a forester. He had three children.

“Oh god, please stop this war. How many of our guys can die?” a woman named Yevgenia Yakovleva wrote. “My soul is torn from pain. I don’t know how to accept this, survive, and live with it.”

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