27.08.2014 | Halya Coynash

If Russia is not at war, then who is in those freshly-dug graves?


In its editorial comment, warns that “in the conflict in the south-east of Ukraine the Russian authorities are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the Soviet regime”/  It asks: “Is Russia fighting in Ukraine and if so, then on what grounds?  If not, then who is in those freshly-dug graves or giving testimony at SBU interrogations?”

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin’s KGB predecessors were unable to keep the death of large numbers of people secret, though they certainly tried.  Efforts are still underway in Pskov and other parts of Russia to conceal the death or injury of a large number of soldiers sent to fight Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine.  Despite obvious pressure on relatives to keep silent and violence against journalists, it is becoming increasingly clear that many of those previously assumed to have been mercenaries, were soldiers.  There are indications that at least some of those who went to fight were paid 250 thousand roubles, a large amount especially for Dagestan, where there is widespread poverty and unemployment.

On Tuesday, Ella Polyakova, member of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council and head of an NGO for the mothers of soldiers told TV Dozhd that she had been informed of around 100 wounded soldiers having been flown to the military medical academy in St Petersburg.  There is no information about how – or where -  they received their injuries and she is currently checking the information.

Polyakova and another member of the council, Sergey Krivenko have written to Russia’s Investigative Committee asking that an investigation be carried out into how 9 contract soldiers from the 18th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, many from Dagestan, died.  The official version is that they died on a shooting range in the Rostov oblast (near the border with Ukraine) on Aug 9 and 11. 

Polyakova also told Dozhd that soldiers contracted for service in Dagestan had been paid a lump sum of 250 thousand roubles for taking part in military action in the east of Ukraine.  She cited the head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in the Stavropol region, Ludmila Bogatenkova.   In a republic with a high rate of unemployment, the money is a major incentive.

Contract soldiers wounded in Ukraine are, she says, simply dismissed on their return to Russia.  She explains that there are no documents that will confirm that they have taken part in any military action.  “Russia is not waging a war, there is no military action”.

No documentary proof is therefore provided, however Polyakova’s assertions coincide in many details with information coming to light from the relatives of other soldiers.  Many of them have not been in contact since around Aug 17, and there are unfortunately good grounds for fearing that they may have been killed in the fighting that Moscow is continuing to claim it has nothing to do with. 

After a number of soldiers were caught by the Ukrainian army, the Russian defence ministry, and later Putin himself, claimed that soldiers might have wandered across the border ‘by accident’. 

Since the US and NATO have confirmed the presence of Russian military personnel in Ukraine and that arms and equipment are being sent across the border, this seriously strains credulity.  It also fails to gel with the stories journalists have been hearing from the relatives of soldiers who have not been in touch for the last 10 days.

The relatives of one young soldier say that he had told them that he was at military exercises in the Rostov oblast. When they asked why they couldn’t get through to him by telephone, during the last contact with him a week ago, he avoided answering and simply told them that all was well.  

In that case, it almost certainly wasn’t and they received a strange telephone call from Ukraine asking them to come and “collect the body”.

The parents of Ilya Maximov from Saratov have heard nothing at all, and are obviously going crazy with worry.

As reported, it seems more than likely that the so-called humanitarian convoy military trucks, many of which entered Ukraine half-empty were used to carry the bodies of those killed back to Russia. 

The funerals of many paratroopers and GRU military intelligence officers have been taking place in the last two days in the Pskov oblast in Russia with the dead buried without any indication of how they died and where.  There are also efforts to stop people finding out. 

Perhaps the most disturbing is the behaviour of one of the soldiers’ wives, or somebody pretending to be her.  Novaya Gazeta explains that the wife of Leonid Kichatkin reported his death on Aug 22 on the social network VKontakte.  By the next day Leonid’s page had disappeared, and when Novaya rang the number that had been given, the woman who was supposedly Leonid Kichatkin’s wife insisted that her husband was alive, well and right next to her.  A man then took the phone and confirmed that he was Kichatkin.

The Novaya journalist found Leonid Kichatkin’s newly dug grave in the Vybuty cemetery outside Pskov.  The photo is that seen on his wife’s VKontakte page.

On Wednesday, Dozhd reported that the names, as well as the wreaths and ribbons, have disappeared from the graves of two paratroopers buried on Aug 25: Leonid Kichatkin and Alexander Osipov. 

Four journalists, from Dozhd and Telegraf were assaulted and threatened at the cemetery on Tuesday by men who were obviously lying in wait and meaning business.  It is unfortunately likely that bereaved relatives are also being placed under pressure to hide the truth, made even more shameful by attempts to conceal even the deaths of men Moscow sent to fight its dirty war. 

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