[Marxism] Soldiers’ Graves Bear Witness to Russia’s Role in Ukraine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 22 07:59:01 MDT 2014

 From Roger Annis interview with Boris Kagarlitsky 

"Some Russian military organisations of course co-operate with 
opolchenie, clearly, and there are Russian troops that moved into 
Donetsk and Lugansk and are stationed along the border to control both 
sides of it, but they are not taking part in active combat."

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

NY Times, Sept. 22 2014
Soldiers’ Graves Bear Witness to Russia’s Role in Ukraine

SELIZOVO, Russia — In a far corner of a small cemetery outside this tiny 
village by the Oka River, a black flag proclaiming the military might of 
Russia’s tank forces ripples in the wind above the recently dug grave of 
Sgt. Vladislav A. Barakov. A photograph of the baby-faced soldier in 
full dress uniform sits propped against a wooden cross with a small 
plaque that says he died on Aug. 24. He was 21.

What the plaque does not say — and what no one wants to talk about — is 
how and where the young sergeant died: blown up in a tank while sent to 
fight in eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s leaders have denied any role 
other than as facilitators of peace.

Sergeant Barakov, who served in Russia’s Sixth Tank Brigade, was one of 
dozens — some say hundreds — of Russian soldiers killed in action this 
summer. Their bodies have been returned in recent weeks to loved ones 
who in many cases had no idea where they were sent to fight, have 
received little information about how they died and, in any event, are 
being pressured not to talk about it. Some families have even been 
threatened with losing any compensation if they do.

“We are just ordinary people,” Sergeant Barakov’s uncle, who declined to 
give his name, said in a clipped reply when asked for details of his 
nephew’s death. “You have more ways of finding out than we do.”

Much of the information about regular Russian troops in Ukraine has come 
from soldiers themselves — posting about their deployments on social 
media, as well as about the deaths of comrades fighting there.

Yet even as the Kremlin’s official line has crumbled, with at least 
three online databases charting Russian soldiers killed or wounded in 
Ukraine, efforts to sustain the cover-up have persisted.

On Thursday, a BBC television crew was attacked in the southern Russian 
city of Astrakhan after interviewing the family of a soldier who died in 

“Apparently there is an unspoken order to deny losses and hide graves,” 
said Lev Shlosberg, a regional lawmaker who was beaten and hospitalized 
last month after he began documenting the deaths of soldiers who were 
based in Pskov. The city, in northwest Russia, is home to a celebrated 
unit, the 76th Guards Air Assault Division.

“Many of those funerals have been held either at dawn or early in the 
morning so that only few would see them,” adding shame to the grief and 
heartbreak of military families, Mr. Shlosberg said. “They are ready to 
go to war,” he said of the service members. “But secret funerals 
humiliate them.”

Mr. Shlosberg has published a list of 12 soldiers from the local base 
who were killed in Ukraine but said he believed there were hundreds 
more. He said revealing the truth would help end the conflict. “The only 
goal is to stop this war,” Mr. Shlosberg said.

Already, the deaths have forced the Kremlin to adjust its message, and 
officials now acknowledge that some Russian “volunteers” went to Ukraine.

The soldiers’ bodies are also providing a much fuller picture of 
Russia’s military intervention on behalf of pro-Russian separatists 
fighting the Ukrainian government. The dead served not just in elite 
special forces, like those who led the incursion in Crimea, but also in 
paratrooper and air defense units, motorized rifle brigades, armored 
brigades and infantry units — representing the breadth and depth of the 
Russian military.

Last month, their stories began to appear online, posted by fellow 
soldiers, relatives and friends. In some cases, soldiers stopped calling 
home, prompting families to reach out to advocacy groups such as 
Soldiers’ Mothers, founded during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

With little official information, Yelena Vasilyeva, a political and 
environmental activist, created a Facebook group as a clearinghouse.

“It’s not possible to get official information,” Ms. Vasilyeva said. 
“This war is officially undeclared.”

A Ukrainian computer programmer, who would give his name only as 
Vladimir, said he had created lostivan.com, a searchable database, after 
seeing that information about Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine was 
quickly disappearing from social networking sites.

“The purpose of this site is to show the world evidence of how Putin’s 
regime began open war with Ukraine,” Vladimir said, referring to the 
Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. “I receive most of the information 
from a mothers’ committee, plus relatives,” he said. “People in Russia 
don’t want to talk about it openly.”

Dead bodies began undermining the Kremlin’s official line in early June 
when a first load of corpses of Russian citizens who had volunteered to 
fight in Ukraine was carried back in a large white truck, marked with 
red crosses and a huge “200” scrawled on the sides. The reference was to 
“Cargo 200,” a phrase that originally referred to the weight of zinc 
coffins used to bring dead soldiers home from Afghanistan but now 
applies generally to military casualties.

The trip was chronicled in detail by Maria Turchenkova, a Russian 
photographer, who was part of a small group of journalists that followed 
the truck.

The Russian government’s denials became even harder to sustain in 
August, as fighting intensified and regular Russian troops were deployed 
to save the rebels from defeat.

One of those units was Sergeant Barakov’s Sixth Tank Brigade, which is 
normally based in Mulino, 225 miles east of Moscow.

On Aug. 15, when the brigade was ordered to the Ukrainian border, one 
soldier, Sergey Rusakov, posted the news on his page on Vkontakte, 
Russia’s Facebook, with an expletive and a reference to quitting.

The next week, the unit was part of a convoy sent into Ukraine, and on 
Aug. 24 — the same day Sergeant Barakov was killed — a Ukrainian 
military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said at least two Russian tanks had 
been destroyed near the border.

Since then, other soldiers from the Sixth Tank Brigade, Mr. Rusakov and 
Dmitry Yermakov, were also reported killed.

Here in Selizovo, a tiny village 180 miles southeast of Moscow, 
residents all seemed to know about Sergeant Barakov’s death, but details 
were hazy. His older brother, Aleksandr, said the family had been told 
that Sergeant Barakov was killed in a training exercise.

Standing outside the family’s home on Oktyabrskaya Street, Aleksandr 
said his brother had been “a positive guy” who had wanted to serve in 
the army since childhood and enlisted voluntarily, but who also loved to 
cook and had trained to become a chef. Aleksandr Barakov said the family 
had been given no details, but he insisted that his brother had never 
been in Ukraine.

Dmitry Gorbachyov, another soldier in the Sixth Tank Brigade, who posted 
photos of Sergeant Barakov and Mr. Rusakov on Vkontakte, contradicted 
that. “This horrible war took you,” Mr. Gorbachyov wrote. “But you will 
always be in our hearts.”

Anna Filkina, who was in the same class in school with Sergeant Barakov 
through childhood, said she had heard that he was killed by Ukrainian 
mortar fire on the Russian side of the border. The Russian government, 
which has complained of errant artillery, never reported such casualties.

Ms. Filkina said most of the boys she had grown up with had gone on to 
military service, leaving a village that at its center has a single 
grocery store and a memorial to soldiers killed in World War II. “No one 
is forgotten,” it says. “Nothing is forgotten.”

At the cemetery, a short drive away, a cup of tea, a spoon and a 
cigarette were left on the ground near Sergeant Barakov’s grave. It was 
surrounded by flower arrangements, each with a ribbon: from brothers; 
from girlfriends; from family; to grandson.

Mr. Shlosberg, the lawmaker from Pskov, said many families of dead 
soldiers did not see a point to further investigation. “They don’t 
care,” he said. “For them, the war is over.”

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