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Russia: Families of Missing Moskva Sailors in Search of Answers | War in Ukraine

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A week after the sinking of the flagship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea – after an explosion of munitions, according to Moscow, or missile strikes, according to Ukraine – the Russian authorities have still not issued any official report of the number of survivors, dead and wounded on a crew of about 500 people.

Faced with the silence of the authorities as to the fate of their loved ones or the contradictory information communicated to them, at least 10 families, according to the New york Timespublicly expressed their frustration on the social networks still allowed by the Kremlin or, again, in independent Russian or international media.

Few seem to have been more blunt than the father of Yegor Chkrebets, a 19-year-old Russian who was a cook on board the Moskva.

They said the entire crew was evacuated. This is a lie! A cruel and cynical lie! »

A quote from Dmiti Chkrebets, father of Yegor Chkrebets, on the social network VKontakte
A young man in a Russian Navy uniformEnlarge image (New window)

Screenshot of Dmitri Chkrebets’ VKontakte page, showing a photo of his son Yegor.

Photo: VKontakte via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Last week, the Russian state agency TASS initially claimed that all the crew had been rescued, then smuggled the word everything.

Turning to VKontakte, a Russian equivalent of Facebook, Dmitry Chkrebets said he was told his son was not among the dead and injured, but on a list of missing sailors.

How can they lie so cynically? pretending on the television channels that are all alive? he asked on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

If the disappearance of the Moskva, which played a key role in the coordination of Russian ships in the Black Sea, constitutes one of the greatest material and also symbolic setbacks suffered by Moscow since the start of the war in Ukraine, for the Russians without news of a son, a husband, a father or a brother, it is obviously a personal tragedy.

Reporting to independent Russian media Insider research to find her son, Irina Chkrebets confided that she went with her husband to a military hospital in Crimea where wounded sailors were treated.

We watched every child burned. I can’t tell you how difficult it was. We haven’t found our son. There were only 200 people, there were more than 500 on board. Where are the others? »

A quote from Irina Shkrebets, mother of Egor Shkrebets, interviewed at Insider

Conflicting information

Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov said the crew had returned to their base in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, according to Novaya Gazeta European independent Russian investigative newspaper forced to work in exile.

Last Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defense also released a video showing a meeting between Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov and men presented as members of the crew of the Moskva, at the port of Sevastopol.

Sailors standing side by side.

Dozens of sailors believed to have been rescued from the sinking took part in a ceremony in Sevastopol last week.

Photo: via Reuters / Russian Ministry of Defense

the Novaya Gazeta Europe clarified that the part of the meeting where the commanders announced the number of officers present and absent was broadcast without sound.

According to media estimates, however, there were about 100 men, arranged in two rows. Russian officials did not explain the absence of the other crew members.

The Shkrebets’ quest for answers, like that of other families, is an uphill battle.

Interviewed by the independent Russian-language site Meduza, based in Latvia, Anna Syromaysova, the mother of a missing conscript reported that she could not see any official documents relating to the victims: There are no lists. We are looking for them ourselves. They don’t tell us anything.

An observation also made by Maksim Savin in an interview with New York Times.

They don’t want to talk to us. We are in mourning; they enlisted our little brother, and it is very likely that they will never return it to ushe said of his brother Leonid, a conscript of barely 20 years refractory to serve in the army and who did not support the war, he specifies.

The family was first told he was missing, then received conflicting accounts of the circumstances of his death, before one of their interlocutors reverted to the initial version.

Looks like the officers are trying to shut everyone uphe concludes.

Her account matches that given by Tamara Grudinina on the BBC’s Russian-language service. Her son, Sergei Grudinin, 21, was assigned to the Moskva after receiving basic training, she claims.

He was alternately told that he was missing, that he was alive and well, and that he would contact her at the first opportunity and that he had sank with the boat.

For fear, perhaps, of reprisals on the part of a government which provides for penalties of up to 15 years in prison for the dissemination ofmisleading informationothers preferred to confide in the media on condition of anonymity or deleted their messages on social networks after reporting the disappearance of their loved ones.

The Kremlin declined to comment on testimony that has emerged over the past few days, saying it defers to the Defense Ministry, which has not confirmed the information.

Russians report death of loved ones

A wreath with a ribbon at a ceremony in Sevastopol.

Veterans of the Russian Black Sea Fleet held a ceremony last Friday in memory of the Russian missile cruiser Moskva.

Photo: Reuters / ALEXEY PAVLISHAK

Media, including Reuters, reported that a memorial ceremony was held in Sevastopol last Friday. Photos from the event show wreaths adorned with a message honoring the ship and the crewwhich, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, indirectly confirms that some members of the crew of the Moskva were indeed killed.

On Russian networking site Odnoklassniki, Varvara Vakhrusheva confirmed the death of her husband, Midshipman Ivan Vakhrushev, following a call from Russian Navy officials.

A sailor’s wife interviewed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also confirmed her husband’s death.

Yulia Tsyvova, in tears, for her part confided to the Guardian having received, on Monday, a call from the Ministry of Defense advising him of the death of his son Andrei.

He was only 19 years old, he was a conscript. They didn’t tell me anything else, no information about the date of the funeral. I’m sure he’s not the only one who died. »

A quote from Yulia Tsyvova, at Guardian

The Meduza site cites a source close to the command of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, who claims that 37 crew members of the Moskva died.

The assessment coincides with that put forward in an interview granted on condition of anonymity to Novaya Gazeta Europe by the mother of a sailor who survived.

People were killed, some were injured, others disappeared. […] [Mon fils] called me crying because of what he had seen. It was scary. Obviously not everyone survivedshe said, referring to about 40 dead.

Several of the injured lost their limbs, because there were several explosions caused by both missiles and detonated ammunitionshe added.

My son told me the cruiser was hit from land, on the Ukrainian side. A fire does not start for no reason […] They tried to put out the fire on their own, after three Neptune missiles hit the cruisershe argued.

The woman thus accredits the thesis put forward by Ukraine, even if the latter says that it launched two missiles in the direction of the Moskva.

The Russian authorities cover up the information, she believes, because the Ministry of Defense does not want to admit defeat for Ukraine. He does not want to admit that such a cruiser was damaged.

Since the start of the offensive, the Russian authorities have also minimized their losses, according to experts.

At the end of the first week of fighting, the Ministry of Defense deplored in its ranks 498 dead and 1,597 wounded. A month ago, he confirmed a total of 1,351 soldiers killed and 3,825 wounded, a figure significantly lower than Ukrainian and Western estimates.

Ukrainian forces say the number of Russian servicemen killed has now crossed the 20,000 threshold.

A month ago, a manager of theNorth Atlantic Treaty Organization estimated that the number of Russian servicemen killed in action during the first four weeks of the conflict was between 7,000 and 15,000 for a total of 30,000 to 40,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded.

Use of conscripts

Beyond the number of dead kept secret by Moscow, the testimonies of relatives point to another aspect of the war led by Russia: the use of conscripts, often very young.

Quickly after throwing what he designates as a special military operationVladimir Putin assured that he would not send conscripts or reservists to fight in Ukraine.

At the beginning of last month, the Russian Defense Ministry had to acknowledge the presence of conscripts at the front, adding that some had been taken prisoner. The Russian military argued that they were sent to Ukraine by mistake and have since been repatriated.

Because Russian law prohibits the deployment of these tens of thousands of Russian men aged 18 to 27, mobilized each year for compulsory military service of one year, in operations taking place outside the borders.

A fact that Dmitri Chkrebets did not fail to raise.

A conscript who is not expected to see active combat is considered missing in action. Guys, how can you be missing on the high seas?!!!he wrote on the social network VKontakte.

I asked them directly: Why are you officers alive, and my son, a conscript soldier, dead? »

A quote from Dmitri Chkrebets, reporting an exchange with Moskva commanders

The people who allowed this to happen should be punishedhe told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The more we write, the harder it will be for them to keep quiet about what’s going on.believes Dmitri Chkrebets.

If several of his fellow citizens are afraid to speak up, this is not his case. A man whose son was taken from him in such a despicable way is not afraid of anything!

With information from New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, The Insider, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Novaya Gazeta Europe, and Medusa

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