Russian Federation: the invisible mourning of soldiers’ families

This is highly sensitive information in conflicts, often prohibited or, in any case, always very controlled: the losses in an army operating on a battlefield. Afghanistan, Chechnya or Syria, the Russian army has a long and recent history of military interventions. But concerning “the special operation in Ukraine”, the mourning is lived especially in the intimacy.

From our correspondent in Russia,

On a map of Vladivostok, we find the place under the name of “maritime cemetery”. The tombs scattered between the trees and the lawns rest on a hill which dominates from very high the port and the estuary on the Pacific Ocean, offering a 380° view. This is also the military cemetery of this capital of the Far East.

From the entrance, several tombs are aligned. All for young men born in the 1990s, all of whom died between March and this summer. All also members of the elite troops of the Russian army: above the wreaths of fresh flowers float, next to the national flag, the flags of various elite corps of the army.

According to the local press, which paid tribute to them, other soldiers have their last resting place in this cemetery. But after walking the aisles, seeing other graves of other young men who died at the same time grouped next to each other, it was impossible to find the names mentioned.

These images of graves, they are rare on Russian television. We also see few reports on families, except to make heard the voice of parents who say they are proud that their child has done his homework in the ” fight against Nazism in Ukraine “. What we see very often, however, are medal presentations on the battlefield, officials visiting the wounded in hospitals and artists who have come to sing for them.

Russia admits 1,351 dead

Wounded and dead in the “special operation in Ukraine”, how many are there? In Russia, it is in any case forbidden to use figures other than official ones, on pain of imprisonment. The counter is blocked at March 25. Latest assessment communicated by the Ministry of Defence: 1,351 dead. Until last June, some local media published the names of deceased soldiers according to official lists to pay tribute to them. In some cases, journalists have been accused by the courts of having violated the secrecy of the Russian army’s losses, and the lists suppressed.

Through these lists, one could grasp the geographical origins and the social profile of the fighters, and in particular note an overrepresentation of the peripheral regions of Russia, the Far East and the Caucasus in particular.

In Vladivostok, however, as in Moscow, more than 6,000 kilometers away and seven time zones, “the special operation in Ukraine” is almost absent from daily life. There are many “Z”s on official buildings, but you hardly see one drawn on a wall or on a car window. Yet live here, families of soldiers who fought, are still fighting, sometimes died.

At the maritime cemetery in Vladivostok, eastern Russia, graves of soldiers who died in Ukraine. © Anissa El Jabri / RFI

Murad Magomedovitch, fallen in Mariupol

To meet one of their loved ones, you had to show your credentials. In Russia, Western journalists have had particularly bad press since the start of the offensive in Ukraine. Evgenia Magomedova has however agreed to receive RFI in the beauty salon she runs in a wooded district of Vladivostok.

Long brown hair and a neat appearance, at 32, she is the mother of two children aged six and one. Over tea and a plate full of fresh, sweet watermelon, she traces the thread of her meeting and her love story with her deceased husband, still using the present tense from time to time to talk about the father of her daughters.

An active woman, used to her military husband being away from her and her family for months, Evgenia Magomedova received her announcement at the beginning of January as ordinary news: “ I’m leaving for exercises in Belarus. “Her phone call of February 24, on the other hand, she still remembers:” He called me very quickly and said “darling, don’t worry, I won’t be checking in on you for a while. And that’s all. We had no news for a month. I watched the news with my parents and it was the first time I saw my father so scared. And when I said “daddy i’m scared“, he responded to me “me too, i’m scared“. »

The news of her husband is also very spaced out, the messages, brief, sometimes transmitted by others. ” I never knew where my husband was or what he was doing “says Evgenia Magomedova. ” I never even guessed. When it comes to work, my husband has always been like that. The only thing I know is that my husband died in Mariupol on April 25. I know because it’s on the death certificate and it’s not classified information. »

Murad Magomedovitch, an officer in the Marine Corps, is buried near his grandfather, in his region of origin, in Daghestan. Why was he fighting? To this question, the mother of the family answers spontaneously: “ What our guys coming back from the war are saying and what the foreign media are trying to deny about Nazism in Ukraine, all of these things are true. I saw with my own eyes a video of our guys entering a house and finding, instead of an icon, a portrait of Hitler. For me, being a Muslim, it’s hard to see that. »

Evgenia Magomedova also adds: “ I want to believe that what is being done there is right. Otherwise, it will be impossible for me to live. You understand ? I have already paid a very high price for it. ” A ” just cause “, says this military wife who also asks questions to which she has no answer: “ Why is everything so cruel? Why is there so much hate for each other ? When did Ukrainians and Russians become enemies ? »

Tears on both sides of the border

The young mother wants RFI to recall that the government has supported her, that she has received financial aid. But today, for Evgenia Magomedova, ” in this situation, there can no longer be winners and losers. »

Both sides have already lost a lot among their own. I know many women here who have lost their husbands. Somewhere in Ukraine there may also be another woman who, like me, has a deceased soldier husband, and the same salty tears I have when she puts her children to bed and knows that their father does not will no longer come to tuck them in. We now need reasonable actions on both sides, we need to start negotiations.

Russian Federation: the invisible mourning of soldiers’ families