Wives of Russian soldiers plead for their return from the war

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RIGA, Latvia — A group of wives of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24 have recorded an extraordinary video appeal to local authorities to bring their men home alive. One called the war “unjust” in comments on social media and said authorities must take responsibility for any other men killed.

The video showed 16 adults, almost all women, and a child from Buryatia, an impoverished Russian republic in eastern Siberia where many young men are joining the army as contract soldiers due to a lack of use. The region suffered some of the highest casualty rates of the war.

The women’s appeal is a sign of desperation in a society where even the slightest criticism of Russia’s war on Ukraine is criminalized as the Kremlin cracks down hard on dissent, determined to tame public unease over the war.

The women identified themselves as the families of Tatsin’s 5th Tank Brigade, military unit 46108. At least 30 soldiers from the unit are believed to have been killed in Ukraine.

One of the women read a statement calling on Buryatia Governor Alexei Tsydenov to investigate and bring the men home. The women said many of their husbands suffered from health problems and injuries. Before the invasion, they were deployed from January for “training exercises”.

“The soldiers are morally and physically exhausted. They all have mild to moderate concussions. The soldiers have been in the field since January until today. Many people have flu-like illnesses,” the statement said.

One of the women, Vera Partilkhaeva, called the situation “anarchy” in comments on social media, according to Sibir Realii, a Russian-language outlet affiliated with US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. .

“Everyone is afraid. The order has been given to shut up! May the death of every soldier in this unjust war be on your conscience! she wrote.

“We demand the return of our sons and husbands to their homeland.”

She deleted the video statement and her profile on Wednesday, and local media reported that she was not taking calls. Russia has passed a strict law banning public statements critical of the military, with ‘fake news’ about the armed forces or the war in Ukraine punishable by up to 15 years in prison .

According to a list of names published by the independent media Ulan-Ude Lyudi Baikala, at least 206 soldiers from the Buryat republic have been killed in Ukraine. He reports that two or three military funerals are held every day in the city, often in a special Department of Defense section of the city cemetery.

Buryatia is one of the poorest Russian regions, with an average monthly salary of around $380. The Russian army offers military recruits about $3,500 a month, which makes enlistment attractive in the region.

Local media reported that the governor had agreed to meet with the women on Sunday.

In early March, Tsydenov attended several funerals commemorating fallen soldiers, but then stopped making appearances.

“At this moment in Ukraine, the fate of our country, the fate of all of Russia and its future are being decided,” he said on March 12 after four Buryat paratroopers were awarded posthumous medals. . “And your sons, husbands and fathers sacrificed their lives to defend their country. They are heroes and you are proud of them.

Public protests and complaints from parents of Russian soldiers have been rare in the war against Ukraine – unlike Russia’s two wars against the breakaway republic of Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the Committee of Mothers of soldiers helped crystallize popular anger about high military casualties and military blunders.

But Russians have filed thousands of letters of complaint with the Russian administration, independent media The Insider reported.

Russian officials have consistently downplayed the impact of the war on Ukrainian citizens and the Russian military. Even the word “war” is banned in Russia to describe Russian attacks on Ukraine.

Officials have denied attacks on civilian targets and there has been no update on the Russian military death toll since late March, when the Defense Ministry announced that 1,351 servicemen had been killed.

But several independent media projects collecting open-source data on deaths in Russia report that 3,800 to 4,100 servicemen have been killed, figures based on obituaries and online postings by family members.

The Ministry of Defense has not released information on the number of Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine.

Some families of Russian servicemen missing after Ukraine sank Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, in April have publicly complained that they could not get an answer from the Defense Ministry about the deaths of their son.

The relatives of Russian Navy conscripts who survived the sinking of the cruiser last week wrote a joint letter to the Sevastopol military prosecutor’s office, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers and the Commissioner for Human Rights, complaining that their sons were still being forced into the war, Novaya Gazeta reported. They demanded that their sons be transferred ashore from the frigate Ladny.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered that no conscripts be sent to fight in Ukraine.

Tatyana Efremenko, 39, whose son Nikita Efremenko was conscripted on the ship, told the Guardian last month that she was still looking for her son and had “some very tough things” she would like to say to Russian leaders .

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