Saturday 20 December 2014

Russian mothers say they will rescue their army sons

Tom Parfitt

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

A group of Russian servicemen who are detained by Ukrainian authorities
A group of Russian servicemen who are detained by Ukrainian authorities

Olga Garina drew a breath, looked straight into the camera and addressed Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

"In the name of Christ, I beg you: give me back my child, return him alive," she said. "And all the other boys who are with him in captivity." As the Kremlin ties itself in knots denying involvement in the conflict that rages in Ukraine, news of the first Russian soldiers to die and be taken prisoner is threatening to cause public discontent. The kernel of protest was a grubby basement in the small Russian city of Kostroma. Here, in the local office of the Soldiers' Mothers Council, the parents of paratroopers seized by Ukraine's army gathered to weep, vent anger and make a video address to Mr Putin.

Lyudmila Kocherena said she used to trust the president, who is also commander-in-chief of Russia's army.

"Two days ago everything was different," she said. "I'm a patriot of my country and if the president and the minister of foreign affairs say none of our troops are in Ukraine, they're only at the border, how can we not believe him?

"But now we've all changed our opinion, because of this case. Now, I believe our troops are taking part in a war."

The case of which she spoke unfolded on Monday when Ukraine's Security Service said it had captured 10 Russian soldiers.

All of the captives were young paratroopers from the 331st regiment of Russia's 98th Guards Airborne Division, based in Kostroma. Among them was Mrs Kocherena's nephew, Yegor Pochtoyev (20), who, like the others, was dispatched by train to Russia's Rostov region, bordering Ukraine, last week.

News of the men's capture came as journalists tracked down the fresh graves of two paratroopers from a different airborne division in Pskov, a city in the west of Russia. One of the two soldiers' names was found in the logbook of an infantry-fighting vehicle captured on Ukrainian soil.

Several more Pskov troopers appear to be missing and other deaths from the area seeped out. As for the men from Kostroma, they were alive at least. Ukraine published video interviews with four of the men in which they said they had been sent on an "exercise" in the Rostov region.

Mrs Kocherena finds doubtful the suggestion of a hapless patrol straying miles across the border.

"I don't believe they just got lost," she said. "They were sent to fight."

On Tuesday, the deputy commander of the 98th division finally addressed a chaotic meeting in Kostrom. He told them two paratroopers had died, at least 10 had been injured and 10 taken prisoner.

Mrs Garina, who is Mr Pochtoyev's mother, added: "They are low-ranking soldiers who were led like blind mice by their officers, they thought they were on an exercise.

"If the government doesn't help them, we mothers ourselves will go to rescue them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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