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Death of Russian Soldiers Leave Families Heartbroken but Silent

By: Benjamin He

A Russian mother was left heartbroken when her 24-year-old son died fighting in the Ukrainian war.

24- year-old stone-factory worker Yevgeny Chubarin was fueled by exhilaration when he told his mother that he was going to join the army and fight the Ukrainians. His mother had begged him not to go, but he was determined to fight for his country.

By May 15 he was armed with an Ak-47 and was ready for combat. He was killed the next day.

Stories like Chubarin’s are appearing throughout Russia, but they are all hidden behind the prompt claptraps made by the state media. In Russia, the war is often depicted as an existential struggle against the Nazis and NATO, and television news never mentions the rising casualty count.

But stories tend to find their way into the light. Vladimir Krot, a 59-year-old Soviet-trained pilot, had sent many requests to serve in the war. His requests were all rejected. But despite this, he kept asking. As the fatality rates climbed higher on the scales, he was permitted to fight. He died just a few days later when his jet crashed during a training flight. He left behind his wife and 8-year-old daughter.

The number of war casualties is a state secret. Russia has made it a crime to question or criticize either the war or the military. Independent journalists who dare do things such as covering funerals are arrested and told that spreading “tears and suffering” isn’t good for public morale. Authorities have even shut down some online memorial pages.

Security agents visited a man named Dmitry Shkrebets when he accused Russian authorities of lying about the number of sailors who died when the Black Sea flagship Moskva was sunk by Ukranian missiles. His own son was aboard that ship, and he was listed as “missing.” The agents took the accusations as “bomb threats” and confiscated his laptop, as he stated on VKontakte (the Russian version of Facebook). Finally, 111 days after Shkrebet’s son’s death, Shkrebet received a death certificate.

Russian President Putin has been able to defend keeping the number of war deaths a secret, though only politically.

“Partly through controlling the information narrative, but also because this is now seen as a war against the West,” said Bobo Lo, a former deputy head of mission at the Australian Embassy in Moscow.

Since so many families are afraid of speaking out and there isn’t a credible source to trust, it's up to independent media and human rights groups to keep count. Their counts are only based on open-source death reports.

BBC News and an independent Russian outlet, Mediazona, have both reported 5,185 war dead as of July 29. The greatest loss of numbers was in more remote areas like the southern region of Dagestan and the Siberian region of Buryatia. The wealthy cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg barely sustained any casualties. In total, they lost 46 servicemen.

The CIA and British intelligence agency MI6 estimate that around 15,000 Russians have been killed since the invasion in February, the same as the amount that died in the 10-year-old Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Nina Chubarina, a dairy farmworker, doesn’t question the war. She simply rereads a poem that her son sent to her back in 2017 about growing up and leaving her behind: “Forgive me for all the pain that has fallen on your weary shoulders. Please accept my soldier’s bow. It is from the bottom of my heart.”

Sergei Dustin is quite the opposite. He speaks out openly about the war. His daughter had married a marine named Maksim and became a widow when she was 19. He crafted his rage into posts on Facebook, demanding that Russians should ask why their sons were dying.

He said the war was a “massacre started by crazy old men who think they are great geopoliticians and super strategists, incapable, in fact, of anything but destruction, threats against the world, puffing out their cheeks and endless lies.”

His son-in-law had landed in the invasion. An old friend was fighting in Ukraine. He hoped neither would die.

There aren't many more like him. The silence of most other families conceals the rising death toll on both sides.

Light is still seeping through, however. In Buryatia, a group of wives of Russian soldiers created a video in June that demanded the military give their husbands back. Hundreds of soldiers in the region had managed to contact an activist group and asked how to break their contracts. On VKontakte local memorial page, the death toll rises daily.

“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.”


Russian families grieve war deaths as Kremlin conceals the true toll - The Washington Post.pdf

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