Tag Archives: Moscow

#Moscow Stifles Dissent as #Soldiers Return From #Ukraine in #Coffins #Russia


REUTERS.
A red flag attached to a pro-Russian separatist tank is seen near a checkpoint of the Ukrainian national guard nearby the town of Slavyanoserbsk, in Luhansk region Sept. 10, 2014.A red flag attached to a pro-Russian separatist tank is seen near a checkpoint of the Ukrainian national guard nearby the town of Slavyanoserbsk, in Luhansk region Sept. 10, 2014. Gleb Garanich / Reuters

Late last month Yelena Tumanova was handed the body of her son in a coffin at her home in Russia’s Western Volga region. Anton Tumanov was 20 and a soldier serving in the Russian army in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya.

The documents Yelena Tumanova was given with the body raised more questions than they answered — questions about how her son died and about the Russian government’s denials that its troops are in Ukraine. The records do not show Anton Tumanov’s place of death, said human rights activists who spoke to his mother after she got in touch with them.

“Medical documents said there were shrapnel wounds, that is he died from a loss of blood, but how it happened and where were not indicated,” said Sergei Krivenko, who heads a commission on military affairs on Russia’s presidential human rights council.

Yelena Tumanova could not be reached for comment and reporters were unable to review the documents. But more than 10 soldiers in her dead son’s unit told Krivenko and Ella Polyakova, another member of the presidential human rights council, that Anton Tumanov died in an Aug. 13 battle near the Ukrainian town of Snizhnye. The battle, the soldiers said, killed more than 100 Russian soldiers serving in the 18th motorised rifle brigade of military unit 27777, which is based outside the Chechen capital of Grozny.

Rolan, 23, a fellow soldier who served with Tumanov, said his comrade died on the operating table after he was hit by shrapnel from rockets. Rolan said he was steps away in an armoured personnel carrier when the rockets struck. He said two in his group died, including another soldier, named Robert.

“I was inside an APC, hatches were open, and as a result I was lightly stunned and shell-shocked,” said Rolan.

“Robert and Anton were outside two or three steps away and they simply did not manage to hide. Robert died right there. We gave first aid to Anton, he was already on the operating table when he died,” said Rolan, now at home in Russia’s Krasnodar region where he is recovering from an injury.

Human rights workers and military workers say some 15 other Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine, with hundreds more now in hospital.

The fact that Russian soldiers have died in a war in which they officially have no involvement is a problem in Russia. Chatter about young soldiers returning home in coffins has begun to spread over the past few weeks. Though still limited, such talk has powerful echoes of earlier Russian wars such as Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said this week that Russia had moved most of its forces back across the border into Russian territory after a ceasefire between Kiev and the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. But a NATO military officer said Thursday that Russia still had 1,000 troops in the country.

The idea of an outright invasion of eastern Ukraine by Russian troops is highly unpopular in Russia. A survey by pro-Kremlin pollster Fund of Social Opinions said 57 percent of Russians support the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, but only 5 percent support an invasion of Ukrainian territory.

Russian authorities have worked to systematically silence humans rights workers’ complaints over soldiers’ deaths, intimidating those who question the Kremlin’s denials that its soldiers are in Ukraine.

Krivenko and Polyakova, who is also the head of an organisation representing soldiers’ mothers in St. Petersburg, filed a petition on Aug. 25 asking Russian investigators for an explanation for the deaths at Snizhnye.

So far they have heard nothing. But soon after the petition was filed to the Investigative Committee, a law enforcement body that answers only to President Vladimir Putin, Polyakova was told her organisation, which has existed since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, had been branded a “foreign agent.”

The term, brought in by Putin in 2012 to set apart nongovernmental organisations that receive foreign funding and engage in political activities, carries no real punitive measures but is often used to discredit critics of the Kremlin.

Polyakova says she has been at odds with the authorities over her stance toward Russia’s annexation of Crimea. She believes authorities gave her the “foreign agent” tag because of her petition and an Aug. 28 interview in which she first accused Moscow of covering up the deaths of Russian soldiers.

“It’s all linked. This was just the last drop, so to speak,” she said.

Serving in Ukraine

Officially there have been no Russian soldiers in Ukraine. But Kiev maintains that Russian troops have in the past few weeks helped separatists reverse the tide of the conflict, pushing Ukrainian forces back from the Russian border and allowing the separatists access to the sea.

And Reuters was able to find people who know of hundreds of soldiers injured in Ukraine, or whose relatives are fighting in Ukraine, building up the most comprehensive picture yet of Russian battlefield casualties in the country.

A military doctor said hundreds of Russian soldiers injured in fighting in eastern Ukraine are now in military hospitals in the regions of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Rostov, which borders Ukraine.

“Generally they bring [the injured] to Rostov and to Moscow,” he said.

Sergei Kozlov, an IT specialist in Moscow, says his nephew Nikolai, a paratrooper based in Ulyanovsk, was sent to Ukraine on Aug. 24. He was hit by a shell after he crossed the border, Sergei Kozlov said, and lost his leg.

“He was operated on in Rostov province and then was brought to Moscow because there was no more room there. But even now there is no room in Moscow hospitals or in St. Petersburg because they’re all filled with people injured in Ukraine,” Sergei Kozlov said by phone. Nikolai, who Sergei said is still in hospital, could not be reached.

A cab driver in Moscow who gave his name as Vitaly said his son was also sent to Ukraine. He has a picture on his dashboard of the 20-year-old boy smiling atop an armoured personnel carrier.

Vitaly says he is furious that his son — a paratrooper based in Pskov near Estonia — has been sent to Ukraine to fight for the rebels.

“They sent him there illegally to fight for the rebels two weeks ago. He says he’ll be back on Nov. 20. I’m counting the days,” he said.

Vitaly says officers tried to force his son, who is serving mandatory military service, to change his status to a contract soldier, which would legally allow him to serve abroad. Conscripts in Russia are exempt from foreign service.

His son refused to sign, but officers sent him to Ukraine anyway.

“They dressed him up like a rebel so no one would know he was a Russian soldier and off he went,” said Vitaly.

Rolan, the serviceman who fought alongside Tumanov in Snizhnye, says he spent 10 days fighting in Ukraine in the middle of August. Back home in the Krasnodar region, he said his commanders offered soldiers the option to go to Ukraine. The men could refuse, but the commanders were very supportive of those who agreed. Rolan went, he said, because of his military oath and to protect Russian-speakers from Ukrainian forces, routinely referred to as fascists, in Russia. His unit put him on paid leave to make the trip.

“I wanted to push neo-Nazis and pure fascists deep into the country or eliminate them and to free Russian-speaking population of this evil,” he said.

He said he crossed into Ukraine in a truck without a licence plate.

“On the Ukrainian side of the border, rebels met and guided us. In fact there is no border, just a field of sunflowers. There is Russia on one side of it and on the other side there is no more Russia.”

“No Relation to Reality”

Independent Russian news outlet Dozhd has tried to keep a list of the Russian soldiers injured, detained or killed in Ukraine.

But the number of Russian soldiers serving on the side of pro-Russian rebels against Ukrainian troops is unknown.

Russia’s Defence Ministry has strongly denied reports that Russian military units are operating in Ukraine.

“We have noticed the launch of this informational ‘canard’ and are obliged to disappoint its overseas authors and their few apologists in Russia,” a ministry official, General-Major Igor Konashenkov, told the Interfax news agency.

“The information contained in this material bears no relation to reality.”

A Facebook page called “Cargo 200,” the Soviet term for the bodies of soldiers sent home from war, is also trying to protest at the use of Russian soldiers in Ukraine and connect soldiers and parents to better understand how their children died.

Yelena Vasilyeva, who helps organise the group, blamed Russia’s Federal Security Services for hacking attacks.

“Our group is suffering attacks most likely from the Federal Security Services since Aug. 20. On the site it’s been going on for five days,” she said.

Krivenko, of the presidential human rights council, said Russia’s failure to admit that its soldiers were in Ukraine was part of a long tradition of hiding military activities or playing them down, as in the first war in Chechnya.

“When the Chechen War began, it also started out without a declaration of war. And Russian soldiers participated in secret until troops were officially sent in Nov. 1994. Until then, they took off their uniforms and entered the conflict as volunteers,” Krivenko said in his office at Moscow-based rights group Memorial.

“Everyone understood that there was war going on there but everyone tried to hide it in every possible way,” he said.

Covering Traces

Rights activists and their lawyers say the biggest difference between the first Chechen War in the 1990s and now is that Russian authorities have become better at stopping information they don’t like.

In the northwest Russian city of Pskov, reporters were chased away from a cemetery in late August where, according to accounts on social media, two Russian paratroopers killed in Ukraine are secretly buried.

On Aug. 21, Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala published on his Facebook page what he said were photographs of Russian documents recovered after Ukrainian forces clashed with an armoured column of pro-Russian rebels near the village of Heorhiivka, eastern Ukraine.

The photographs show a passport in the name of a 21-year-old man called Nikolai Krygin issued in the Pskov region. There was also an insurance certificate, also issued in Pskov, and a copy of the military rule-book for Russian Airborne Troops. Reporters were unable to locate Krygin.

Pskov is the hometown of the 76th division of the Russian Airborne Troops. Its base is a few kilometres from the cemetery.

A Russian politician said he was badly beaten by unknown assailants after publicising the funerals of the paratroopers in Pskov.

“There is a weaker civil society now. Now the entire system is closed. In a closed system, what happens covers the entire system, investigators, doctors,” said Polyakova.

Vitaly Cherkasov, a human rights lawyer, said that authorities were using threats and administrative punishments — like ‘foreign agent’ status — to keep people from talking. But even with that pressure, information spreads.

Yulia Ganiyeva, 22, received a phone call from an anonymous officer on Sept. 4, informing her of the death of her fiance Alexei Zasov, 22, who served in the 31st paratroopers brigade in Ulianovsk, Vladimir Lenin’s home town on the Volga river.

“They officially said that he was killed on Russian territory but the truth is that he was killed in Ukraine,” she said.

“I got in touch with soldiers who served with him. They told me he was killed in Ukraine.”


The Moscow Times.

Russian soldiers reveal the truth behind Putin’s secret war #Ukraine #PutinsSecretWar #Russia


by Newsweek.
A Pro-Russian separatist fighter stands guard at a checkpoint on Sept. 10, 2014 on a road of the Donetsk airport. © AFPA Pro-Russian separatist fighter stands guard at a checkpoint on Sept. 10, 2014 on a road of the Donetsk airport. © AFP

Lyudmila Malinina’s voice trembled as she described the secret funeral she witnessed on a recent night in her small town of Sudislavsky in the Kostroma region of central Russia. At about 8 p.m., a truck parked at the cemetery a few yards away from her wooden house. The truck’s headlights stayed on to illuminate the ground for several men to hurriedly dig the grave, “as if they were thieves hiding something“, Luydmila says.

More neighbours popped out of their windows and doors to watch and discuss the strange scene, wondering why anybody would bury a relative at this hour. Besides, that part of the graveyard was reserved for the deceased in war, as somebody pointed out.

While Nato sat down for a summit to decide what to do about the war in Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin negotiated a ceasefire deal with Kiev, Russian society recoiled from reports about secret funerals of soldiers killed in Ukraine: missing sons, calls from husbands begging their wives to save them from ­battle, bodies with missing limbs arriving in coffins to Nizhny Novgorod, Orenburg, Pskov, Murmansk, Dagestan and other regions of Russia. The death toll for Russian soldiers jumped to more than 200 soldiers in a few days, between August 12th and September 2nd, in a war that was, officially, not happening.

Russian army wives have a special term for dead soldiers returning home from the front lines in zinc coffins: they are called “cargo 200” – a phrase that has echoed like a curse to a Russian ear since the days that a tide of zinc packages came in from Afghanistan during the Soviet war of 1980s. The secrecy around their husbands’ deployments “was like a trap created by a schizophrenic”, one of the Kostroma paratroopers’ wives says.

An alleged Russian soldierAn alleged Russian soldier stands in front of the besieged Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near Simferopol, Crimea.. Daniel Van Moll/Nur/Photoshot

One of the soldier contractors, who served in Ukraine, described “the longest August” of his life on the front, in a phone interview with Newsweek. What was the worst part? Wounded friends dying in Rostov hospitals; the men in zinc, the “200s” being sent home, and a high risk of becoming one. “When we were on the train to Rostov last month, I had no idea we were to go to Ukraine; we all believed they brought us to a base for the usual routine exercises. If I knew it was for war, I’d have quit back in Kostroma, as I have two little children at home,” the paratrooper of the 331st regiment of Russia’s 98th Guards Airborne Division, says.

What mattered to the paratrooper most were the men on his left and right, his children and wife waiting for him in his hometown of Kostroma, 320km north of Moscow. Among his fellow men, he says, there was little understanding of Putin’s idea to establish Novorossiya, or New Russia, as a separatist state in eastern Ukraine.

Who was Russia’s main enemy? That answer seemed instantly ready: “America.” In a few days on the front lines under constant fire, the Kostroma paratrooper “dried up down to the bones”, not from the lack of food but from the constant fear of death, he said, that he had never experienced before.

Earlier that day, his regiment was brought back to the base in Rostov region, to wash in the banya, or Russian steam bath, and have one night of solid sleep. The soldiers had their first chance for a break from battle, for a quick chat with families since they crossed the Ukrainian border on August 18th. So as not to be identified as Russian regular forces, commanders ordered the paratroopers to change into the Western military surplus desert camouflage their wives had to buy for them, with their own money.

Russian paratroopers captured in UkraineRussian paratroopers captured in Ukraine at a press conference in Kiev last month.. Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Nobody asked the servicemen to sign any additional papers, though current contracts did not stipulate deployment to a foreign state. “I never volunteered for this; but any attempts to quit would be useless – they are sending us back to the meat grinder tomorrow; if somebody told me earlier about the truth, none of us would have signed up for $1,000 a month to get fried alive in Ukraine,” says the officer in his thirties, who requested his identity be concealed.

The use of misleading uniforms to sneak into foreign territory for a secret operation does not surprise Russian military experts. One Moscow-based army analyst recalled the earlier “masquerades” or false flag operations under Soviet military doctrine, sending Soviet and Russian commandos dressed as locals in Afghanistan and in Chechnya: “Our forces conducted secret operations in the Middle East and in Africa this way. Putin’s strategy is not unique,” says the analyst who declined to be named.

While the Russian leaders stuck to their denials, mobile phone chats and social media forums fill up with images of ­the country’s artillery and “Grad rocket” launchers rolling across Ukrainian border. Russian internet users across the country watched videos of army mothers and wives covering their wet-with-tears faces with both hands, begging Putin to free their loved ones “in God’s name”, as well as video interviews with soldiers captured by Ukrainian forces.

Early each morning, paratroopers’ wives crowded on Nikitskaya Street outside the Airborne Division, waiting to hear more official explanations about their husbands “participating in military drills in Rostov”.

The women spoke to their husbands on the phone and knew the truth. “My boy asked me to go to church and light candles for his survival, as they were herded back to Ukraine,” one of the terrified wives, Veronika Tsiruyeva, says.

The invasion of Ukraine has been happening in slow motion since spring. On the afternoon of April 16th, professional-looking militia in green uniforms surrounded the perimeter of the administration building on the Square of October Revolution in Slaviansk, a city in eastern Ukraine.

"Cargo 200" is a special term in Russia for dead soldiers returning home“Cargo 200″ is a special term in Russia for dead soldiers returning home. This photograph shows a crudely marked truck carrying the bodies of Russian ‘volunteers’ killed fighting in Ukraine en route to Russia.. Maria Turchenkova/Echo Photo Agency

“We are ‘polite green men’, born in the USSR, just the same as in Crimea,” one of them told me. A few days later, rebels occupied one more Ukrainian town, Horlivka. Their commander Anatoly Starostin described what “a great relief” it was to have support from Russian special forces. “They are about 60 top-class professionals, unspeakably well-trained,” Starostin said of the “polite green men”. Russian special forces took over television transmitters, so locals would watch only Russian state channels covering the Kremlin’s official line.

It wasn’t long before the first truck with a large, crookedly written “200” on its side rolled into Russia on June 2nd, bringing back 31 bodies of Russian “volunteer” soldiers, mostly in their late 30s to early 40s. Afterwards, members of the press in the courtyard of Kirovsky Hospital’s morgue in Donetsk, watched doctors and rebels whispering over the wooden coffins: “Let them receive them on the other side and figure out where to send the refrigerator,” they muttered, clueless about the final destination.

No Russian state channels mentioned the 31 red coffins making their way home across the sunflower fields; it took days for families of “the volunteers” to break through the wall of secrecy and find the frozen bodies of their men.

A 'Cargo 200' truck, carrying the bodies of Russian 'volunteers' killed fighting in Ukraine, crosses the border into RussiaA ‘Cargo 200′ truck, carrying the bodies of Russian ‘volunteers’ killed fighting in Ukraine, crosses the border into Russia. Maria Turchenkova/Echo Photo Agency

This month, Russian commanders planned to demonstrate unprecedented nuclear forces exercises involving Supersonic MiG-31 fighter-interceptors and Su-24MR reconnaissance aircrafts. The Kremlin warned the west against welcoming Ukraine to join Nato, as the alliance began their drills on Ukraine’s western border. As the sides of the conflict sat down for talks, Putin’s security advisers changed the military doctrine, lowering Russia’s threshold for using nuclear weapons. As mainstream television channels pumped the anti-Americanism muscle on a daily basis, commanders drilled soldiers to fight the war against America and Nato.

Meantime, back in Sudislavskoye village, news about the secret burial travelled fast, from door to door until the entire neighbourhood spoke the truth: “The deceased man in the grave was Dmitry Kustov, a drafted soldier, serving in the army since last year,” Lyudmila says. For some reason wholly unknown to his family, Dima ended up fighting a war in a foreign country, Ukraine, in late July. “He hadn’t lived long enough,” locals say of the 20-year-old soldier quietly buried in the twilight.


Newsweek.

#Poroshenko says #separatist areas could get greater #autonomy, but #rebels demand more!


by Michael Birnbaum and Daniela Deane.
A Pro-Russian fighter gestures in Troitsko-Khartsyzk, 30 Km east of Donetsk, on August 28, 2014A Pro-Russian fighter gestures in Troitsko-Khartsyzk, 30 Km east of Donetsk, on August 28, 2014. © AFP

MOSCOW – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Sept. 10 that rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine could be granted greater autonomy, but vowed they will always remain part of the country, pro-Russian separatists however repeated demands that they be given full independence.

In remarks to his cabinet in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, Poroshenko stressed that the rebels must consider political compromises as the next step after a tenuous cease-fire that took effect Friday.

The “fate of peace” depends on it, Poroshenko said. He said he will introduce legislation next week on the status of the rebel-held regions to give them more local power, although he offered few details.

The prospect of handing over any amount of control to the rebels is deeply unpopular among many of Poroshenko’s pro-European allies even though it appears to be the main condition of the cease-fire deal.

He asked the cabinet to help preserve the peace in eastern Ukraine.

Perhaps we will not be happy with the composition of local deputies elected by residents of Luhansk and Donetsk in early elections to municipal and district councils. But isn’t it better to administer policy through ballots instead of automatic gunfire and Grad volleys?” he said, referring to the truck-mounted multiple-rocket systems that both sides have used to inflict devastation.

The cease-fire, meanwhile, appeared largely to hold despite sporadic clashes. Poroshenko said Russia had pulled back about 70 percent of the troops who Ukraine and Western allies said had crossed the border. It was not possible to confirm his claim. Russia has denied sending troops into Ukraine.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged European Union partners to quickly impose new sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The potential economic measures have been on hold as the European Union assesses the cease-fire. The bloc appears poised to go forward with sanctions as soon as Thursday.

Separatists on Wednesday repeated their demands for full independence, and both sides appeared to doubt the endurance of the truce.

We fully and absolutely insist on our republic’s independence within the boundaries of the Donetsk region,” Andrei Purgin, a top rebel leader, told the Interfax news service.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said in Moscow that Russia will defend itself against threats, including NATO’s bolstered presence near the country’s borders.

The Kremlin will “take adequate response measures to ensure our security,” he said at a meeting of his security advisers.

(Michael Birnbaum is The Post’s Moscow bureau chief. He previously served as the Berlin correspondent and an education reporter. Daniela Deane reported from Rome).


The Washington Post.

Ukraine president says Russia moves most forces back across border #Ukraine #Russia


by Reuters.
A russian soldier walks on the top of a tank, some 10 km outside the southern-Russian city of Donetsk, on August 18, 2014. © AFPA russian soldier walks on the top of a tank, some 10 km outside the southern-Russian city of Donetsk, on August 18, 2014. © AFP

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said on Sept. 10 Russia had moved the bulk of its forces he said had been in eastern Ukraine back into Russian territory, raising hopes for the peace process. 

Russia denies sending any troops into eastern Ukraine in support of pro-Russian separatists battling Kiev’s forces there, despite what Ukraine and the West say is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Moscow also denies arming the separatists.

“According to the latest information that I have received from our intelligence, 70 percent of Russian troops have been moved back across the border,” Poroshenko told a government meeting.

“This further strengthens our hope that the peace initiatives have good prospects.”

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, writing by Gareth Jones).


Reuters.

The #Russians #protesting against the #Ukraine conflict


A small number of Russians have braved public disapproval and possible arrest to stand against Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. RFE/RL’s Russian Service spoke to some of them.

A man holds a sign during a protest against the conflict in eastern Ukraine in the centre of Moscow on 28 August. The sign reads: “No war” Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/ReutersA man holds a sign during a protest against the conflict in eastern Ukraine in the centre of Moscow on 28 August. The sign reads: “No war” Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

The Afghanistan veteran

Vladimir Barabanov is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and heads a local branch of the Union of Afghanistan Veterans in Russia’s western Bryansk Oblast. Barabanov, a senior reserve lieutenant who served in Herat and Kabul between 1986-88, held a protest with fellow veterans on 5 September. A second demonstration is scheduled for 13 September.

“We remember perfectly how Afghanistan started. We don’t want those events to repeat themselves,” Barabanov says. “They told us, the last Soviet soldiers, that the war in Afghanistan war would be the last – that our losses weren’t in vain, that our colleagues died so that such wars would never be repeated. The war that is currently going on in Ukraine with Russia’s participation nullifies those losses”.

How will we look Ukrainians in the eye tomorrow?

“Authorities need to distract people from social problems using a small victorious war. I think that the reason for the war is social. People are unsatisfied, both in Russia and in Ukraine. They’re looking for someone to blame for our bad lives. All this looks like a special operation – as former soldiers, we can see that perfectly well”.

“How will we look Ukrainians in the eye tomorrow? The war will end, and a Ukrainian will ask: ‘And where were you, why didn’t you say anything? Didn’t your son fight against mine?’ The blame will be on all of us. Those of us who are going out on the square want to say that we have no relations to this filth. Why do they hide the loses of the Russian forces? The same thing happened in Afghanistan. There are a lot of analogies.”

(Interview by Arslan Saidov, read in full in Russian).

The retired geologist

Muscovite Irina Epifanovskaya, 59, is a retired geologist who now spends much of her time engaged in civil activism. She was arrested in central Moscow after she stood alone and holding a small sign reading “No war with Ukraine”.

Muscovite Irina Epifanovskaya was arrested in central MoscowMuscovite Irina Epifanovskaya was arrested in central Moscow Photograph: Irina Epifanovskaya.

“A lot of people simply walk by when you’re protesting. But since I’ve spent my entire summer doing this, I can say that I’ve seen an enormous shift since June and July,” Epifanovskaya says.

“In recent weeks, people have come up to me and shaken my hand two or three times; some thanked me or said they supported me. There wasn’t anything like that before. It’s because this undeclared war has entered a new stage, one whose traces are already clearly visible – the ‘cargo 200’ coffins [believed to transport Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine].”

“I’ve already lived most of my life. All of my basic needs are attended to. My children are grown. I had a profession, I had things I loved to do, and I still do. I’m beyond being afraid of what might happen to me when I protest. It hit me so hard, in the deepest part of my soul, that permission was given to send troops to Ukraine! It should be clear to any sensible person that Russia can’t fight with the nation that’s closest to it. I look at it as my personal affair and my personal grief.”

(Interview by Lyubov Chizhova, read in full in Russian)

The advocate

Aleksandr Osovtsov is a former lawmaker and director of the Open Russia fund. He offers free legal assistance to Russian soldiers who refuse to participate in military operations in Ukraine. He details the right of conscientious objectors under Russian law in a post on his Facebook page.

“I believe what’s going on right now is an absolutely full-fledged war,” says Osovtsov. “Maybe the parties have yet to use their full forces and means, but the United States didn’t use its full force in Vietnam or Iraq, and no one was arguing that the phrase ‘Vietnam war’ had no right to exist. It was a war, and it’s the same thing here. As soon as Russian military units were located on Ukrainian territory and engaging in hostilities, it was a war.

At the moment the chance of an anti-war movement in Russia is very small

“It’s legally possible for those who want to refuse to serve in Ukraine to do so. Every person should decide for himself. That, of course, won’t stop the war, but it can give people the chance not to participate if they don’t want to – and moreover to do it on an absolutely legal basis. I know of quite a few cases when Russian soldiers refused to participate in fighting in Chechnya, and not one of them faced criminal liability as a result.

Aleksandr Osovtsov is a former lawmaker and director of the Open Russia fund Photograph: RFE/RLAleksandr Osovtsov is a former lawmaker and director of the Open Russia fund Photograph: RFE/RL

“At the moment the chance of an anti-war movement in Russia is very small. I really don’t want to think like this, but logically I can’t imagine another situation. It will take the ‘Cargo 200’ and ‘Cargo 300’ – code for dead and wounded – before people start to think and realise that no one normal needs this war.”

(Interview by Mark Krutov, read in full in Russian)

The film director

Film and theatre director Vladimir Mirzoyev was among the signatories of a recent open letter published in Novaya Gazeta protesting the war in Ukraine and what they called Russia’s self-isolation and the restoration of totalitarianism.

“I understand that our population is deeply traumatised by the entire 20th century,” Mirzoyev says. “These are people who can easily fall into a state of maniacal euphoria and patriotic psychosis, and just as easily fall into depression. It’s a bipolar disorder, where people react to generally frightening things in a completely inappropriate way. They deny that a war is being waged. It’s possible, of course, to say that Russians are a victim of TV propaganda, but after all it’s still not that hard to get on the internet to find alternative information to compare and contrast the facts. But they don’t want to compare anything, they can’t accept the thought that their country, their homeland, is the aggressor.

Our population is deeply traumatised by the entire 20th century

“Of course, the catastrophes of the 20th century aren’t lost on the population. All these traumas have been absorbed by families, recorded in the memories of entire generations, and these people aren’t healed. Now that they’ve started pouring salt and sulfuric acid on the wounds, they’re breaking down completely. People are very sick. And so they’re giving an inappropriate response.”

(Interview by Andrei Shary, read in full in Russian)

The physicist

Mikhail Lashkevich is a researcher at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in the town of Chernogolovka, outside Moscow. He was detained by police in August after standing on a busy Moscow street holding a poster reading “Why is our country led by a raging idiot?” on one side, and “It’s not your war, but your children are going to die in it!” on the other.

“I oppose the war precisely because it’s Russia that’s unleashing it, because it’s so obviously a war of aggression,” says Lashkevich. “I recently read a definition of aggression that is used at the United Nations, and of the seven points, there’s only one that Russia hasn’t violated. There’s one aggressive action that it hasn’t taken – it hasn’t allowed its territory to be used by a third aggressor. But it’s done everything else. It’s annexed territory, it’s introduced its own troops, it’s supported terrorist groups on the territory of a neighbouring country, and so on.

Mikhail Lashkevich was detained by police in August. Photograph: Mikhail LashkevichMikhail Lashkevich was detained by police in August. Photograph: Mikhail Lashkevich.

“I don’t discuss my views at work. I talk about it only with colleagues that I’m close to. It’s a fairly liberal situation in this sense. There’s no trouble at work.”

(Interview by Lyubov Chizhova, read in full in Russian)

The activist

Natalya Tsymbalova is a founding member of St Petersburg’s Straight Alliance, a human rights organisation that aims to rally heterosexual activists behind the fight for equality for Russia’s LGBT community. On Ukrainian independence day on 24 August, she was berated by a hostile crowd for standing on a central street carrying a sign reading, “Petersburg congratulates Ukraine on Independence Day.” She has since applied for asylum in Spain following after receiving threats of violence. She spoke to RFE/RL before leaving Russia.

There’s a feeling that the battle is hopeless and that it’s only going to get worse

“What’s happening now shows that we were right – this was never limited to gays. [Authorities] honed their technology of manipulation and propaganda on the LGBT community… and now exactly the same thing is happening with regard to Ukraine… they’re all ‘banderovtsy’ and ‘fascists’. It’s an absolutely virtual concept that has nothing to do with reality,” Tsymbalova says.

“A lot of people in our circles are thinking about leaving [Russia]. Even that small minority who have always said that this is our country and we’ll fight to the last are thinking about emigration. There’s a feeling that the battle is hopeless and that it’s only going to get worse… It’s all very dangerous and unpleasant, and the main thing is there’s no hope, no hope at all.”

(Interview by Dmitry Volchek, read in full in Russian)


The Guardian.