the invisible mourning of soldiers’ families

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

From our correspondent in Russia,

On the map of Vladivostok, we can see the place under the name “maritime cemetery”. The tombs scattered among the trees and the lawns are located on a hill that dominates from a very high port and the estuary of the Pacific Ocean, which offers a 380 ° view. It is also the military cemetery of this Far East capital.

From the entrance, several tombs are lined up. All for young men born in the 1990s, they all died between March and this summer. All are 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 the various elite corps of the army.

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

These images of graves, they are unique on Russian television. We also saw some reports from families, besides hearing the voice of parents saying that they are proud that their child did his homework in ” fought against Nazism in Ukraine “. What we often see, however, are medal presentations on the battlefield, officers visiting the wounded in hospitals and artists who come to sing for them.

Russia claimed 1,351 dead

Wounded and killed in “special operation in Ukraine”, how many were there? In Russia, in any case it is forbidden to use numbers except for officials, on pain of imprisonment. The counter was blocked on March 25. Latest assessment announced by the Ministry of Defense: 1,351 dead. Until last June, some local media published the names of the dead soldiers according to official lists to pay tribute to them. In some cases, journalists were accused in the courts of violating the secrecy of the Russian army’s losses, and the lists were suppressed.

Through these lists, one can understand the geographical origins and the social profile of the fighters, and especially notice the overrepresentation of the peripheral regions of Russia, the Far East and the Caucasus in particular.

In Vladivostok, however, like Moscow, more than 6,000 kilometers away and seven time zones away, “the special operations of Ukraine” are almost absent from everyday life. There are many “Z”s on official buildings, but you hardly ever see one drawn on a wall or in a car window. But living here, the families of soldiers who fought, still fight, sometimes died.

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

Murat Magomedovitch, killed in Mariupol

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

Long brown hair and smooth face, at the age of 32, she is the mother of two children aged six and one. With tea and a plate full of fresh, sweet watermelon, she traces the thread of her meeting and her love story with her late husband, still using the present tense from time to time to discuss 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 notice at the beginning of January as ordinary news: ” I will leave for exercises in Belarus. “His phone call on February 24, on the other hand, he still remembers:” He called me quickly and said “darling, don’t worry, I won’t check in on you for a while. And that’s all. We have had no news for a month. I was watching 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 answered me”me too, i’m scared“. »

The news about her husband is very distant, the messages, short, are sometimes passed on to others. ” I don’t know where my husband is or what he is doing “said Evgenia Magomedova.” I never guessed. When it comes to work, my husband is always like that. All I know is that my husband died in Mariupol on April 25. I know because it’s on the death certificate and not classified information. »

Mourat Magomedovitch, a Marine Corps officer, was buried near his grandfather, in his region of origin, in Daghestan. Why did he fight? To this question, the mother of the family spontaneously answered: “ What our men from the war say and what the foreign media try to deny about Nazism in Ukraine, all these things are true. I saw with my own eyes a video of our men entering a house and finding, instead of an icon, a picture of Hitler. For me, being a Muslim, that is hard to see. »

Evgenia Magomedova also added: “ I want to believe that what is being done there is right. Otherwise, it would be impossible for me to live. You understand ? I have paid a very high price for it. “A” just cause “, said the military wife who also asked that she had no answer: ” Why is everyone so cruel? Why so many hate each other ? When did Ukrainians and Russians become enemies ? »

Tears on both sides of the border

The young mother wants RFI to remember that the government supports her, that she receives financial assistance. But now, for Evgenia Magomedova, ” in this situation, there are no winners and losers. »

Both sides have already lost a lot of themselves. I know many women here who have lost their husbands. Somewhere in Ukraine there may be another woman who, like me, has a dead soldier husband, and the same salty tears I experienced when she put her children to bed and knew that their father will not come to hide them. We now need reasonable actions on both sides, we must start negotiations.

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