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DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES: RUSSIA’S (UN)DEAD ARMY
By: Chloe Huang
Yevgeny Chubarin, a 24-year-old factory worker, is one of the many men who joined the Russian army to fight against Ukraine. He was sent out on the field on May 15. A day later, he was killed. His mother is still grieving, but she is not allowed to do so publicly.
Vladimir Krot, a 59-year-old Soviet-trained pilot and retired Afghan war veteran, left behind his wife and 8-year-old daughter to fight in the Russia-Ukraine war. He died just days later when the jet he was in crashed during a training flight.
There are many stories like Chubarin’s and Krot’s, as Russia’s “special military operation” drags on. The number of grieving parents increases as the weeks pass. “It will never be easier,” Dmitry Shkrebets wrote in a post.
Shkrebets lost his son in the war. He writes, “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, tougher. We no longer fear even those who should be feared.”
However, many Russians don’t know about these stories. That’s because the Russian government actively works to silence these voices. The government’s message is that the Russian army is strong and always triumphant. Nothing that goes against this message is allowed, and that includes stories of dead Russian soldiers.
It is a crime to express opinions against the invasion or the military. Journalists who report on funerals for deceased soldiers are arrested and accused of being anti-war. Even the exact number of dead is covered up by the Russian government.
Some independent activist and media groups keep their own casualty counts, but they are based on the rare, confirmed death reports, so the numbers are almost certainly an undercount. The independent Russian outlet Mediazona and BBC News Russian counted 5,185 war dead as of July 29.
In comparison, the CIA and British intelligence agency MI6 puts the number of Russians that have been killed at a conservative estimate of 15,000. That’s about the amount of people that Russia lost in their involvement in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
The silencing of all anti-war opinions is part of the Russian government's initiative to prevent large anti-war protests, which could destabilize Russia. Also, downplaying the risk of death during deployment will increase the number of people willing to enlist, as Russia needs new recruits.
It’s working. “Putin has been able to defend [the high casualty count],” said analyst Bobo Lo, a former deputy head of mission at the Australian Embassy in Moscow. “Partly through controlling the information narrative, but also because this is now seen as a war against the West.”