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Monday, 20 July 2015

The Kremlin's maltreated soldiers

The maltreatment of conscripts in Russia's still largely conscript army has been an open secret for years. In the days when Russia's media was allowed to report on Russia's problems a newspaper like Pravda could report that:
According to the UN International Panel for Struggle against Sexual Exploitation, the Russian army is plagued with male prostitution. A small amount of money is enough to find a Russian soldier-prostitute in the center of Moscow.

Servicemen may become male prostitutes in the Russian army for various reasons. There are young men who voluntarily offer sexual favors to their homosexual clients; others are forced into prostitution against their own will. Newcomers, especially those who finished higher schools before joining the army, suffer from sexual harassment more often than others. Brave soldiers try to protect their honor and rights, although there is no one to help them: commanders and military officials may often be involved in the sex business too.
But that was 2007 and nowadays the deaths of, potentially, thousands in the state secret that is the war in Ukraine must be hidden. The civil society groups set up to deal with the mistreatment of conscript soldiers, like the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers quoted in this 2011 Russia Today article, are now being silenced as they dare to ask questions about the soldier's deaths 'on holiday' or 'on maneuvers'.

If that was not bad enough even when there is an accident the deaths of soldiers are being ignored. Last week a barracks collapsed in Omsk killing 23 young men. State TV barely mentioned it.

This so outraged RFE/RL’s Elena Rykovtseva that she wrote an open letter to those TV network's and her fellow Russian journalists. It has gone viral and has been translated by Kevin Rothrock for Global Voices.


    R.Shaihulin, October 5, 1994
    B.Sudnikovich, January 4, 1995
    A.Polegenko, January 17, 1997
    R.Yumagulov, March 29, 1991
    M.Ignatenko, January 20, 1996
    R.Filyanin, July 24, 1996
    M.Ivanov, October 22, 1996
    V.Chemezov, October 19, 1996
    Filatov, August 18, 1996
    R.Altynbaev, June 14, 1994
    D.Kenih, November 16, 1996
    A.Gritskov, January 30, 1996
    E.Belov, December 3, 1995
    B.Nafikov, 21.09.1996
    O.Kortusov, March 16, 1996
    A.Shokaev, November 5, 1994
    E.Herman, July 30, 1995
    F.Mamliev, September 2, 1996
    E.Reshetnikov, September 30, 1996
    AM.Igoshev, April 6, 1996
    A.Shingareev, April 24, 1997
    V.Lomaev, January 29, 1997

Five of them were buried today in Omsk. Another two went into the ground in Novosibirsk. They’ve declared a day of mourning in Orenburg, too. The dead are also arriving in Irkutsk, Bashkiria, and St. Petersburg. People are crying across the whole country, but it’s no longer an issue for the national TV networks. “[Ukrainian nationalist group] Pravyi Sektor is marching on Europe. The Ukrainian authorities can’t manage the radicals.” This is how their goddamn news broadcasts begin. And there’s not a word about our dead boys.

At this moment, there are funerals happening in Omsk—already for the second day in a row. But there’s no news coming out of there. Not a single live broadcast. And I remember well how Rossiya-24 aired around-the-clock coverage of Lugansk separatist [Alexey] Mozgovoi’s funeral. I remember how it went on endlessly, as the mic was handed off to family, then friends, and then locals, and how everyone cried in their speeches about what a great and wonderful patron and protector he was. When it comes to our own boys in the Russian army, who incidentally wanted fanatically to serve as paratroopers, there’s not a thing on television. Nobody broadcasts the reactions, or the condolences of a single living mourner—apart from Putin’s sympathy, as retold by [his press secretary Dmitry] Peskov. And this was only on the first day.

Yesterday, on the second day, now speaking before a group of students in Klyazma, [Putin] no longer remembered these other young men. He smiled and he beamed and he congratulated the crowd on the day’s fine weather. It was as if the Omsk barracks never happened. The victims’ names were never read on a single national TV network. The men are nameless—all 23 of them.

It’s nothing personal, guys.

But each of these boys has his own social media page, and there are photographs. And it would have been possible at least to say something—anything—about these men, and about their families. Something about Oleg Kortusov, for instance, who was a promising fighter and whose fiancĂ©e is expecting a child. Or something about Egor German, another local from Omsk, who leaves behind a baby born less than a year ago.

And this is to say nothing about helping the victims’ loved ones—those close to the men who died and who survived. They transferred another Omsk soldier, Volodya Petrov, to Moscow, and the Defense Ministry is paying for his treatment, but they didn’t allocate any money to his family for their train transportation or accommodations in the city. And his mother has nothing. That’s why the city of Omsk banded together and raised money to help her.

For some reason, they don’t want to talk about this on their national TV networks, with their audience of millions. For some reason, they don’t want to say even one human thing about these guys, or ask the country if maybe it, too, would like to offer some help, in addition to the one-time assistance their families received from the state (which they don’t get right away, incidentally)?

But I don’t want to talk about these people and their TV stations anymore. Let them live with their shame. I just want to tell those boys goodbye. And also in their memory, I want to publish this photograph [see above], which I found on the social media page of one of them, Sergei Filatov. He’s the one second in from the right in the last row in the back. In the front is Valery Lomaev from St. Petersburg. He died, too. The photo is from July 12, a few hours before the tragedy, inside the very same barracks.

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