Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Window on Eurasia: When Putin’s War in Ukraine Comes Home to a Russian Town

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 2 – The human tragedy of any war is not captured by statistics about killed and wounded but rather by the losses of the individual soldiers and their families and friends. The latter far more than the former bring the meaning and the horror of a conflict home – and do more to define how people feel about it than does any television broadcast does.


            That makes a report about the arrival in Ussuriysk, a city of 165,000 people in the Russian Far East of 17 coffins containing the remains of Russian soldiers who died in the Donbas fighting important because it sheds light on what is happening in an increasing number of Russian cities, towns and villages as Putin’s war in Ukraine continues.


            According to a former Russian soldier, the simultaneous arrival of such a large number of coffins has generated “a definite shock among the local population,” despite all the efforts of Russian officials to keep the funerals and information about where these men met their deaths (crime.in.ua/node/7468).


            Given the official information blackout, the former soldier said by telephone from Ussuriysk, it is unclear in which units those now dead had been serving, but it appears that they were professional soldiers (“kontraktniki”) from the 14th brigade of the GRU Special Forces of the Russian General Staff.


            That is because, he says, in September, people in the city learned that about 500 members of that brigade had been flown supposedly to Rostov oblast, “as people there said, ‘to the West.’”  (Until June 2012, this brigade had been based in Ussuriysk; then it was shifted to the larger city of Khabarovsk.)


            According to this source, the men now being buried thousands of kilometers from Ukraine met their deaths in one of the battled for the Donetsk airport.




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