Alexander Yegorov’s Funeral

On May 26, Kirishi bid farewell to Alexander Yegorov, a contract-service marine who was killed in Ukraine. Our correspondent describes Alexander’s funeral and what his loved ones say about his military service and the circumstances of his death.

Alexander Yegorov. Photo courtesy of VKontakte and Bumaga

Groups of people gather outside the Sunrise Youth and Leisure Center in Kirishi. Almost everyone is holding red carnations — they have come to a civil memorial service for guards marine Alexander Yegorov. One of the deceased man’s twenty-year-old friends has brought black roses. Yegorov’s friends and classmates are followed by a group of distant relatives and teachers. Russian National Guardsmen and military servicemen stand each in their separate groups. Gradually, people converge in a long queue. The queue is headed by a boy of about ten years old in a camouflage uniform, combat boots, and beret, along with an old woman wearing a headscarf.

A military band greets those entering the funeral hall. People lay flowers on a table near the coffin, which is upholstered in red cloth. A Russian flag has been draped over the coffin. Yegorov’s father, mother, and twelve-year-old sister are seated near the coffin. People go up to them, express their condolences, and hug them.

Opposite Yegorov’s close relatives stand medal-bedecked military men, solemnly holding their caps in their hands. The ten-year-old boy in camouflage uniform stands in the center of the hall. Like the adults, he holds his beret in his hand. Two young guards armed with machine guns stand on honor duty near the coffin.

Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

A local councilman in a suit jacket ushers the father of the deceased to the microphone. It is hard for him to talk. He cries, barely able to stand on his feet.

“He wanted this himself. He went on his own accord — a real man. As they said, he saved a comrade… I have also been in combat, I know what it is like. Our friend, our son, is no longer with us. I can’t say anything more.”

Yegorov’s father is followed by members of the Kirishi district council. The words “demilitarization” and “denazification” crop up often in their speeches. “We watch TV, we know everything,” one of them says. Another ends his speech by repeating the president’s quote from the Gospel: “There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends.”

A minute of silence follows. Then a vocational college teacher recalls that Alexander was “not a hooligan” as a student. He says that Alexander would have been an excellent welder.

One of the military men haltingly recounts Yegorov’s act of heroism. Alexander “personally knocked out two enemy tanks” and went to provide first aid to a comrade, but died on the battlefield “as a result of hostile artillery fire.” The military man announces that Alexander has been awarded the Order of Courage posthumously by presidential decree for his courage and heroism.

Anton, a close friend of the deceased, is the last to speak. He is wearing an overcoat and black gloves. It was he who brought the black roses.

Alexander Yegorov’s childhood friend Anton. Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

Alexander’s friend Anton:

“Sasha loved style and was well-groomed. He always wore black gloves, chains, and watches, and loved expensive whiskey. He was quite pretentious and finicky. He was obsessed with business. He was an unusual guy. Since he was charismatic and handsome, many girls fell in love with him, almost all of them. He should have worked as a model. We’ve known each other for fourteen years, we went to the same school. Then we went to vocational college. Sasha studied to be a welder, while I studied to be an auto mechanic, but we saw each other often. He was really into personal growth. He was interested in relationship psychology, business, and marketing, and was an excellent binary options trader. He was always on the lookout for information and constantly learning things. He liked to read books. He really liked the books The Richest Man in Babylon and Personal Development for Smart People. And he gave me relationship advice and helped me find girls, like a personal psychologist.”

Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

In his eulogy, Anton admits that he had a falling out with the deceased a year ago, that he would like to ask him for forgiveness and hopes that all his friends will forgive Alexander and that Alexander will forgive all of them.

Someone in the audience shouts, “What are you talking about, you fucking idiot!?”

The speeches are over. The military band plays. One of the council members invites everyone to travel to the Meryatino cemetery.

Alexander’s friend Anton:

“He wanted to dodge the draft at first, to not join the army, but last year he decided to go. I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe it was quarrels with friends that incited him. He had begun to behave very rudely and disrespectfully towards me and often had arguments with others. He and I communicated less often — he was a high-maintenance guy.

“In the army, he wrote that he felt abandoned. I would guess that he joined the army for the money, and he needed the money to implement his big plans. He wanted to create his own clothing brand, launch a business of some kind, and get rich himself to help others get rich.

“It is possible that his father urged him to serve in the army, like, ‘it’ll make you a man,’ and his father was an authority figure to him. Not that he actually said, “Go into the army, you need to become a man,” but Sasha took his words to heart. He was always independent. He hadn’t wanted to join the army until the last moment, but either his father said something to him, or he just wanted to avoid the difficulties that could arise when applying for a job [for failing to perform his mandatory military service].

Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

On the way to the cemetery, a military UAZ off-road vehicle with an open top, the letters Z and V pasted on its sides and flying three flags, cruises behind the van carrying the coffin. In the car, among people in military uniform, sits the father of the deceased in civilian clothes, his face turned into the wind.

Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

At the cemetery, the zinc coffin’s lid is removed. There is a small aperture around the deceased’s face, and a photo of Alexander in military uniform has been placed on the center of the coffin. We are seemingly given the chance to compare the person before he went into the army and afterwards. People stand by the coffin for a long time, peering at it and saying their farewells.

“Mom, this is our little son!” the father of the deceased screams, turning to his wife. Both of them fall on the coffin, hugging the zinc.

Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

The burial rites begin. The father becomes faint and falls over. People prop him up and put him in the military vehicle, where he sits with his eyes half closed. Two girls sing “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by dying.” Some people cross themselves. Nearby, a group of military men discuss the circumstances of Alexander’s death in a low voice. One of them has served in Ukraine, apparently.

“A large piece of shrapnel got under his helmet, and small pieces, minor stuff, struck his bulletproof vest. They broke his ribs.”

“And the one he saved, did he survive?”

“I don’t know, he’s in the hospital. They [Ukrainians] were prepared. Everything there is dug up, crisscrossed with trenches. There was preparation.”

The knowledgeable young man continues.

“Not that there are no connections. Using phones is forbidden. There are cellular connections only in certain places. If they [soldiers] go up to a cell tower [to get a better connection], sooner or later [the Ukrainians] get a fix on them, just like our guys get a fix on them.”

Alexander’s friend Anton:

“As I was told, Alexander at first served in Kaliningrad in the motorized infantry, but then he was sent to a repair battalion when they found out that he was a welder. While he was doing his [obligatory] service, he signed a contract [to continue his service as a paid volunteer serviceman], thinking that he would go to Syria. Who knew that the war would begin? He had signed a contract. The war began and [instead of] Syria, he was sent to Ukraine.

“We did not communicate when he was serving in the army, but four months later he called me and apologized for everything. He seemed to have said goodbye to everyone in advance, saying that he would soon be gone. He wrote me big congratulatory ‘poems,’ and said he missed me. And he wrote messages to everyone about how he wanted to see them take off. He told me that he hoped I would become a hotshot masseur. He told a friend that she would be able to become a streamer, and told another friend to find himself. That’s what he is like — a spiritual mentor. Shortly before his death, he wrote a very heartfelt letter to his parents, but no one read it except his father. It was probably quite personal.”

Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

The burial rites end, the funeral march plays. The father of the deceased has come to his senses. He approaches the coffin again and hugs his wife. At this moment, everyone shudders as shots are fired. The honor guard is concealed from Yegorov’s relatives and friends by the funeral home van — no one expected the shots. People instinctively duck, and the father covers his ears with his hands.

The coffin is lowered into the grave.

“The Snickers! They forgot to put in the Snickers!” he screams.

People reassure that the Snickers have been put in the coffin, but the father rushes at the grave anyway.

“Forgive me, son, I didn’t want to get you…”

Two comrades try to hold him back by force. The people around him admonish him.

“Your son is a hero, but you…”

Three gravediggers begin filling in the hole. The father escapes and runs up to it again. One of the gravediggers roughly pushes him away. The father falls.

“Someone give him smelling salts.”

Alexander’s friend Anton:

“[Alexander] told me that a phone had been found on someone in his unit. They wanted to arrest the guy, because phones are banned in their unit. But Sasha made an agreement with the person who wanted to arrest him, and gave him his own phone so that there would be no problems for the other guy. Sasha always stood up for his friends. He gave a lot of things away and protected his friends — friends were very important to him. He sacrificed a lot and shared a lot, whether it was money or knowledge. He wanted his friends to be successful too. He wanted to help them grow up and achieve something, to find themselves, to help them start doing something. I told him quite often during his lifetime that I loved him. Many people loved him, and he loved them too.”

Photo: Pavel K. for Bumaga

The gravediggers cover the mound of dirt with fir branches, and then people come up and lay flowers atop the branches. Having calmed down, the father holds his own tiny, intimate ceremony involving church candles. Then he turns to the young people in the crowd, his son’s classmates, and invites them to the wake.

“Aren’t you friends of Sasha? Come with us to the Eden.”

As you leave the town of Kirishi, on the left side of the highway, you see the ruins of a building that has not been completely demolished. Coming closer, you realize that this is the Echo of War monument: the ruins of a pre-war factory boiler room. The description says that the monument serves as a reminder to future generations of war’s horrific consequences.


Source: Pavel K., “‘He said goodbye to everyone in advance, saying that he would soon be gone’: how Kirishi buried Alexander Yegorov, killed in Ukraine,” Bumaga, 28 May 2022. The article’s author (and photographer) is identified here by a pseudonym for reasons of personal safety. Thanks to JG for the heads-up and KA for the encouragement. Translated by Thomas Campbell, who has edited this website for the last fifteen years and has no reason to be afraid of identifying himself, something that he mostly avoided doing during this website’s first twelve years, when it was produced in Petersburg, Russia.


The Echo of War monument in Kirishi, Leningrad Region, Russia. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, which notes: “During the war, the front line passed through the city of Kirishi. The fiercest battles took place in Kirishi in December 1941, during which most of the town’s buildings were destroyed. The front line constantly passed through Kirishi for about two years.”

Primorsky Partisans

Communist Deputy Leonid Vasyukevich’s anti-war speech and the ensuing controversy begins at approximately the 1:59:40 mark in the video, above. The Newsbox.24 dispatch, cited below, contains a different, much shorter video, shot from behind Deputy Vasyukevich while he was reading out his group’s statement. Because it is embedded in a Telegram post I was unable to embed it here. The title of this post refers to the famous group of anti-police guerrillas from the Maritime Territory. || TRR

A group of deputies in the Legislative Assembly of the Maritime Territory [Primorsky Krai] has drafted an appeal to President Vladimir Putin demanding that he stop the so-called special military operation and withdraw troops from Ukrainian territory. The appeal by four deputies from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) was read aloud by Deputy Leonid Vasyukevich at the regional parliament’s [May 27th] session, Newsbox.24 reports.

According to Vasyukevich, given their significant losses, Russian troops would not be able to achieve military success. “We understand that if our country does not stop the military operation, there will be more orphans in our country. Young men who could have been of great benefit to our country have been killed and disabled during the special operation,” the deputy said.

Maritime Territory Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, who was delivering a report on his activities for the past year, demanded that Vasyukevich and Gennady Shulga, who supported his party caucus colleague, be removed from the chamber. “These actions discredit the Russian army and our defenders who stand in the fight against Nazism. [He is] a traitor,” Kommersant quotes Kozhemyako as saying.

Legislative Assembly deputies voted to strip Vasyukevich and Shulga of their right to vote during the session. Anatoly Dolgachev, the head of the Communist Party caucus, called the actions of his fellow party members a “stunt,” and also said that “they defame the honor of the Communist Party with such statements.” He promised to evaluate their actions and take “the toughest measures.”

Maritime Territory Legislative Assembly deputies Leonid Vasyukevich, Gennady Shulga and Natalia Kochugova did not respond to our request for comment as this story went to press. Deputy Alexander Sustov declined to comment.

Source: “A group of KPRF deputies in Primorye speaks out against the war,” Radio Svoboda, 27 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. I translated and published this post before checking to see whether other Anglophone had reported the incident. They have, apparently, including Radio Svoboda’s parent agency, RFE/RL.

“To Become White in the Eyes of Whites”: Astrakhan Kazakhs and the War in Ukraine

Monument to the Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly in Astrakhan. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

According to official statistics, ethnic Kazakhs [so-called Astrakhan Kazakhs] make up 16% of population of the Astrakhan Region. At the same time, 80% of the region’s residents who have been killed in the war in Ukraine and whose deaths have been publicly acknowledged by relatives or the authorities, are members of this particular ethnic group. Idel.Realii talked to several Astrakhan residents to understand why this is the case and what reaction it causes in the local community.

The situation is similar in regions without the status of “republics” — the Astrakhan Region is sending mainly ethnic Kazakhs, not ethnic Russians, to war. According to our figures, the regional and municipal authorities of the Lower Volga have acknowledged, as of today, the deaths of twenty-six natives of the region in the war in Ukraine. Based on the names of the victims and their places of birth, it is possible to say with a high degree of probability that twenty-one of them are ethnic Kazakhs.

Kazakhs are the second largest ethnic group in the Lower Volga after Russians. The 2010 census revealed that around 150 thousand Kazakhs live in the Astrakhan Region. Thus, the ethnic Kazakh population makes up 16% of the region’s residents who indicated their ethnicity. But Kazakhs are in the majority among the acknowledged war dead. Twenty-one out of twenty-six is 80% — that is, the disparity is fivefold.

Fragmentary reports coming from Astrakhan’s rural areas in the early days of the war suggest that the number of the region’s residents killed in Ukraine may be significantly higher than the official data admits. The ethnic imbalance is also noticeable in unconfirmed cases. Reports of war dead appeared mainly in the chats of residents of the Volodarsky District, the only part of the Astrakhan Region where Kazakhs make up the absolute majority of the population.

Idel.Realii talked to several residents of the Astrakhan Region to understand the possible causes of this imbalance and what people in the region think about it. The names of the interviewees have been changed for their safety.

“THE ONLY WAY TO FEED A FAMILY”

“This is not a new story: Kazakhs have always been represented in the uniformed services more than other Astrakhan residents,” says Aisulu from the Volodarsky District. “If you walk around the regional center, you will notice that almost half of the police officers are Kazakh in appearance — which is also much more than the proportion of Kazakhs in the entire population. You see the same picture among contract soldiers in the military.”

She believes that this is due to the fact that Astrakhan Kazakhs have traditionally been settled in small villages in rural areas.

“Many of them are located far from the city. They do not have permanent transport links with the outside world. They are separated from the main roads via one or more ferry crossings,” she says. “There is a high unemployment rate in such areas, and if you have bigger ambitions than working in agriculture, the main ways are rotation work or service in law enforcement and the military. The second option, of course, is regarded as more stable (not to mention respectable), so young guys from villages go en masse into the army and the police. This is often the only way for them to feed their families.”

According Aisulu, Kazakhs also choose to serve in law enforcement and the military more often than ethnic Russians because they have fewer job prospects in large cities: due to xenophobia, many employers prefer to hire a person of Slavic appearance, automatically considering them more competent and presentable. According to Aisulu, this further narrows career choices, motivating Astrakhan Kazakhs to go into voluntary [contract] military service, where ethnicity does not play such a huge role.

“WE DO NOT AND CANNOT HAVE INTERESTS IN UKRAINE”

“In the context of the current war, there may be another factor — ideology. Yes, there are an unusually large number of Kazakhs among Astrakhan military personnel, but they are clearly not the absolute majority. Why do we hear almost only about their deaths? We can assume that the command deliberately sends soldiers of non-Russian appearance to the front line to emphasize the formal justification for the attack on Ukraine: ‘the multi-ethnic people of the Russian Federation’ are fighting ‘fascism,'” says Adilbek, a native of the Narimanov District.

In his opinion, this is ironic.

“This is, allegedly, a campaign by a multi-ethnic people, in which there are Kazakhs, among others, and Putin says, ‘I am Lak, Jewish, Mordvin, Ossetian,’ but this campaign is aimed at expanding the ethnic Russian world and promoting Russian ethnic interests. It has nothing to do with the interests of Laks, Ossetians, or Kazakhs. We do not and cannot have interests in Ukraine at all, we have nothing to do with it. I see a sad irony in this. Russian fascists are waging an aggressive war, leading minorities into battle and taking cover behind fictional anti-fascism. Consequently, our guys are dying for people who actually despise them and are just using them.”

“WE DON’T WANT OUR CHILDREN TO DIE”

Rufina, a relative of an Astrakhan Kazakh who has died in the war in Ukraine, and a native of the Astrakhan Region’s Kamyzyak District, says that many residents of her village have gone to fight. Two other relatives of her parents are currently in Ukraine.

“My mother, grandmother, and other women who remain in the village are rather apolitical people with no coherent system of views. They are, in fact, now opposed to the war, but in their own way: ‘We don;’t want our children to die god knows where and god knows for whom.’ This does not prevent them from chewing out Ukraine and making fun of Zelensky, but they also chew out Putin. The only thing they really want is for all of it to stop and for their children to come home. The men are a little different: my uncle wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a Z, and some people in the village dress up children in these symbols. But I don’t consider this a direct endorsement of the war. In my opinion, their motivation, rather, is just to support their brothers, since they are [in Ukraine],” explains Rufina.

She actively opposes the war and puts up anti-war leaflets in the courtyards of residential areas in Astrakhan, but admits that this stance is not very popular even among her peers — people of high school age.

“Propaganda, unfortunately, does a bang-up job in these parts: many people believe in the ‘special operation’ and despise all Ukrainians. Our Russian-language teacher told us in class about ‘Ukrainian Nazis’ and went to a rally celebrating the ‘reunification’ of Crimea and Russia. I don’t see much opposition from schoolchildren,” says Rufina.

“On the other hand, I met some like-minded women who helped me with leaflets. We made small handwritten posters featuring slogans like ‘Silence is consent,’ ‘No death, no war,’ and ‘Bring flowers, not destruction,’ and pasted them on poles and bulletin boards. They were quickly torn down, however — whether by janitors or ordinary people who didn’t agree with [our message], I don’t know,” says Rufina.

“THE SENSELESSNESS IS STUNNING”

Kanat, who lives in Astrakhan, believes that the region’s residents are gradually losing interest in the events in Ukraine.

“War, like any other topic, cannot grip people’s attention for a long time. During the first month, I heard condemnation and discontent from the people around me and noticed that they were depressed. Now everyone is immersed in their daily problems again,” says Kanat. “There are more of these problems, but for some reason people no longer link them to what the army has been doing at the behest of the authorities. At the same time, it is clear that there is no freedom of speech, there is no criticism of the government and its actions, and we are thinking about how to live with what we have at the moment.”

“A colleague of mine says that when a war is on you must not condemn your country’s army. You can figure things out afterwards, but for now you can only support them. I don’t understand this. If this were a war to defend our own territory, to defend our rights and freedoms, then yes, we could say that, for the moment, we could close our eyes to certain crimes committed by the army or by individuals, and we would get to the bottom of them later. But now the exact opposite — a war of aggression — is happening,” claims Kanat.

According to him, he finds it “strange to see the posthumous medals for Kazakhs.”

“Maybe Kazakhs are not the only soldiers from Astrakhan Region who are getting killed, but I don’t really remember the others, to be honest. The senselessness is stunning. If you believe the rhetoric of the authorities, ethnics Russians are not loved in Ukraine, but ethnic Kazakhs from the Volodarsky District are dying for their interests. But I think that protests in Kazakhstan are more important to them than the rights of Russian-speaking residents of Odesa,” Kanat argues.

“TO BECOME WHITE IN THE EYES OF WHITES”

“Why are Kazakhs and other non-ethnic Russian Russian Federation nationals fighting? I would like to say that it is impossible to explain, but in fact I understand it,” says Rasul, a Kazakhstani national who moved to Russia to study at university. “First of all, these are people from poor regions, for whom the army is a way to move up in life, to become white in the eyes of whites, to become ethnic Russian in the eyes of ethnic Russians, to join something big and supposedly majestic. Secondly, Russian propaganda has this amazing property — it takes all imperial narratives that have existed in this country and fascistizes them to the limit. If you love the Russian Empire, here’s Christ for you. If you love the USSR, here’s the red banner. If you love Russia, here’s the tricolor. Are you a Tuvan who speaks Russian poorly? Here’s the opinion that [Russian defense minister Sergei] Shoigu is the reincarnation of Subutai. Are you a Kadyrovite? Here’s jihad for you. It all affects you, staying somewhere in your head, and when you are sent off to war, you easily find a moral justification for what you are doing.”

Rasul notes that he, perhaps, “would like to denounce ethnic Kazakhs involved in the war, to ‘discharge’ them from the Kazakh people, to say that they are all traitors.”

“From the viewpoint of sharia, they actually are traitors: all muftis, except the pro-Putin ones, have condemned this war. At the Last Judgment, these soldiers will be asked, ‘What did you die for? For Putin and his yacht? Well, then go to hell with them.’ But, to be honest, I feel more sorry for them on the purely human level than for the ethnic Russian guys, because after three years of living in Russia I understood how this propaganda works, how this society as a whole is organized, what the dynamics of interethnic relations are. I myself have many questions for our government, many problems with ethnic Kazakh and Kazakhstani identity, but over these two months I have repeatedly discussed Ukraine with my friends from Kazakhstan — with ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Russians, ethnic Uyghurs, ethnic Dungans, ethnic Germans, and ethnic Poles — and we have always agreed that if Russia invaded us, we would go to war and shoot at the occupiers. We may speak Russian perfectly and have an excellent grasp of Russian literature, but this is our land, and we don’t need any ‘Russian world’ in it,” the Kazakhstani concludes.

Source: Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 18 May 2022. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Buryats and the “Russian World”

Radjana Dugar-DePonte. Photo courtesy of After Empire

As soon as the march “The Slavic Woman’s Farewell” began to play, my mother would cry. She was eleven years old when the Great Patriotic War began. In the small Buryat village of Khandagai, in the Irkutsk Region, all men between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five went to the front. They were sent off to the strains of “The Slavic Woman’s Farewell.” Few of them came back alive from the war.

Siberian divisions played a key role in the great turning point of 1941, when the enemy was halted outside Moscow. Pride in the deeds of our forebears is a significant part of the Siberian identity, but until recently this pride was suffused with the bitterness of loss. My mother always remembered the price of that victory: she saw them in her mind’s eye, the young handsome lads and men who left forever to the sound of trumpets and timpani. I was told how, in the early 2000s, members of the Buryat diaspora in Moscow were invited to a meeting of battlefield searchers in the Moscow Region to receive a list of dead soldiers whose remains had finally been found, identified, and properly buried. One of the searchers came up to the delegation and said with undisguised respect, “So this is what you are like, Buryats!” It turned out that all the fields near Podolsk, where his search party had worked, were simply littered with the remains of my countrymen.

Someone witty once very aptly called Putin a reverse Midas. The Phrygian king Midas turned everything into gold with a single touch. Putin turns everything he touches into a foul-smelling brown substance. The regime’s appropriation of the May 9th Victory Day is just one example. The celebration of Victory Day in Russia for me is now associated exclusively with pobedobesie [“victory frenzy”], with vulgarity, and with the slogan “We can do it again!”, whose true meaning dawns on us only today, after the invasion of Ukraine and the horrors of Bucha.

The irony of the current situation, in which members of my nation, the Buryats, are involved in this shameful war for Russia, is that images of Russian occupiers with Asian faces are now being injected into the public’s mind, while in the Great Patriotic War the role of the warrior-liberator was reserved exclusively for ethnic Russian soldiers.

Soon after Bucha, fake reportsw spread online that it was Buryats who committed the atrocities there, and these posts were illustrated by photos of Yakut soldiers holding the flag of the Sakha Republic, taken in 2018 in the military garrison in the Russian Far East where they served. Why would anyone want to shift the blame for the massacres to Buryats? My Ukrainian Facebook friend Dmytro Kanibolotskyy answered this question best of all: “Russia’s attempts to declare ‘Ukrainian nationalists’ guilty or to pass off the footage from the Bucha district as ‘staged’ have failed. Satellite images clearly showed that the bodies of the dead were lying in the same places when Russian troops were still in Bucha. The involvement of ethnic Russians in the mass murders is also evidenced by their intercepted conversations and the testimony of local residents. But now Russian propaganda is trying to tell a different story, to Ukrainian readers at least: the Russian Federation’s ethnic minorities, who got drunk and disobeyed orders, are allegedly to blame for the whole thing. It is convenient to encourage Ukrainians to think that their enemies are not ethnic Russians, but Buryats (as well as Yakuts, Chechens, Dagestanis, and other peoples of the Russian Federation), that they must fight not against Russia or ethnic Russians, but against the nations that Russian has colonized.”

The investigation of the war crimes in Bucha and other towns and villages is already underway. Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych has spoken unequivocally about the preliminary results: the atrocities in Bucha were committed by “burly Slavic guys,” and not by Buryats, “as they like to say.” I am sure there will be a new Nuremberg trial after the war, and if it transpires that there were Buryats among the war criminals, they will have to be punished. But I hope that there will also be room in the dock for warmongering propagandists, and for the Kremlin’s disinformation agents in Ukraine.

Recently, I have often been asked why so many Buryats are fighting in the “special operation.” There are really a lot of Buryat soldiers fighting in this war. The Telegram channel Mongolian Knot reported that “according to various estimates, there are about ten thousand Buryats at the front.” Other sources report that there are five or six thousand Buryats in combat. Most likely, as a percentage per capita among all the peoples of Russia, the Buryats fighting in Ukraine are in the lead.

I have been told that there is not a single Buryat village that does not have at least a dozen or two dozen contract soldiers at the front. The situation is particularly difficult in the Agin-Buryat District of the Transbaikal Territory. The absence of young Buryat men in public places is striking. There are places where Buryat families go in full force — the so-called countryside and the datsan. There are generally few Buryat men between the age of twenty and forty years in the datsans. According to my relatives, none of the ten Buryat families who came to services at the temple had fathers. In the countryside vacation spots, there were at best two men among every three or four families with children.

Buryats make up only 0.3% of Russia’s population, but they make up 2.8% of the official war dead. In terms of numbers of war dead, Dagestan is ahead of Buryatia, but Dagestan’s population is three times larger. The moderators of the Telegram channel Demography by Raksha looked at the stats for Buryats whose age was known at the time of their deaths in the war, and calculated how many men in Buryatia died on average over the same (fifty-three-day) period during “peacetime” (in 2019-2020). On top of this, they sorted those who have perished in the war in Ukraine into the appropriate age groups.

Thus, only the confirmed cases of combat deaths of men from Buryatia in the war in Ukraine increased the mortality of Buryat men aged 18-45 years by 70%, and the mortality of young men under the age of thirty by 270%. Think about those numbers! There are approximately 462 thousand Buryats in the Russian Federation. What will happen to this nation if it loses so many young healthy men of reproductive age all at once — a tenth of the strong young men who could have raised twenty to thirty thousand children?

The causes of this catastrophic situation can be discussed endlessly. The Buryat territories, consisting of the Republic of Buryatia proper, as well as parts of the Irkutsk Region, the Ust-Orda Buryat District, the Transbaikal Territory, and the Agin-Buryat District, are a large economically depressed region. High unemployment, meager salaries, and the indebtedness of the population have led to the fact that almost the only choice a young man faces in finding a way out of economic impasse is either illegal migration or contract military service.

The traditional upbringing in Buryat families also plays a big role in the conscious choice of a military career. Boys are taught from an early age to be independent, work hard, stand up for themselves, and protect loved ones. Traditional sports are very popular in Buryatia, especially the national form of wrestling, buhe barildaan.

A young guy from a small Buryat village, accustomed to harsh living conditions, hard work, getting up early, and discipline, adapts easily to military life, and after signing a contract, receives a preferential military mortgage (which is almost the most important factor for young families) and a guaranteed salary that is decent by the region’s standards.

Buryat tank crewmen were involved in battles on Ukrainian territory long before February 24 of this year. One of them, Dorzhi Batomunkuyev, who suffered severe burns in the Battle of Debaltseve in 2015, gave an interview to Novaya Gazeta’s Elena Kostyuchenko in which he called Putin “cunning” and admitted that he and his comrades had painted over the numbers of their tanks and removed the chevrons and stripes from their uniforms to “disguise” them before being sent to Donbas.

Dmitry Sapozhnikov, a Russian national and the commander of the DPR’s special forces, told the BBC Russian Service that the role of Buryat tank crews in the battle for the Debaltseve bridgehead had been decisive. Even then, the Buryats were the most combat-ready segment of the Russian army. It was not for nothing that a Buryat crew won the international tank biathlon shortly before our contractor soldiers were deployed to Donbas.

Thus, their professionalism, a respect for elders laid down by their upbringing, their strict adherence to orders, and the way they perform in combat, including their willingness to sacrifice themselves, all make the Buryats excellent soldiers. In 2010, news came of the heroic deed of Aldar Tsydenzhapov, a 19-year-old sailor from the Agin-Buryat District. On September 24, 2010, the crew of the destroyer Bystry was on board and preparing to sail on a combat mission to Kamchatka. Aldar and four of his mates took over the watch. When a fire broke out in the destroyer’s engine room, Aldar rushed to its epicenter and shut a red-hot valve with his bare hands.

The ship and more than 300 crew members were saved, but Aldar was fatally burned and died in a military hospital. The then President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev considered Aldar unworthy of the title of Hero of Russia. Initially, the authorities planned to award him only the Order of Courage. Only after public outrage, a petition campaign on Change.org, and appeals from parliamentarians and party officials, was he posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Russia.

I understand perfectly well that many readers will now accuse me of trying to whitewash my own people. There is most likely some truth to this. I will repeat once again that if it transpires that there are war criminals among Buryats, I will be the first to demand that they be punished. In the meantime, I will give some first-hand evidence of the behavior of Buryat soldiers in occupied Ukrainian territory.

In the first days of the war, in the comments under a post in the Facebook group Buryatia Is Our Home, someone mentioned that the Buryat tank crews were not marauding, but instead were going house to house and trying to buy food from local residents. They said that they were going on maneuvers and had not known about HQ’s plans to cross the border with Ukraine. One Buryat contract soldier said the same thing in a telephone conversation with his family on the eve of the invasion: he had been looking forward to coming home soon, but instead he ended up at war.

A woman from Ukraine, whose brother and niece had spoken with the tank crews, wrote on the Buryat group page that they were hungry since they had been issued dry rations for only one day; they were not aggressive, and wanted to go home. Many of them were conscripts, eighteen- and nineteen-year-old lads who had urgently been “made” contract soldiers. A resident of Chernihiv region wrote about an incident in Mykhailo-Kotsiubynske: “Belarusians, who are stationed there as occupiers along with Buryats and Muscovites, took a horse from a villager, slaughtered it, and ate it. Like in the First World War… And what to do if the Muscovites simply confiscate food? Buryats are the most cultured among the occupiers, they buy [food] for money, while the Belarusians say they are ‘peaceful people.'” (My translation.) There was the testimony from a resident of Bucha that Buryats had tried to warn her to be careful when “they” (probably Pskov paratroopers or Wagner Group mercenaries) came. And in Borodyanka, people said, “The Buryats did not shoot.”

Subsequently, videos with blaring titles like “The Buryats are worse than the Kadyrovites,” etc., were dumped on the web. When you watch the videos, however, it transpires that the most terrible crime of the alleged Buryats (soldiers of Asian appearance, whom the interviewee called “flat–faced”) was shattering a door with an axe, which is not a good thing, of course, but not remotely as bad as torture, rape, and summary execution.

Outright fakes and “crucified boys” have now come into play, like the video featuring a volunteer who allegedly survived Bucha, which was thoroughly and expertly demolished by Dmitro Kanibolotskyy. Such sleaze is manufactured in an attempt to “save face” for ethnic Russian soldiers. This is the point of the image of the savage Buryat, who allegedly slices flesh from live dogs in order to “chow down.” A post containing such outlandish content actually has been making the rounds on social media.

Unfortunately, involvement in an unjust war of conquest eventually hardens and corrupts even the most steadfast and moral people. In such a war, there are no soldiers in clean white jackets, if HQ encourages looting and violence against civilians. The Russian army and the people of Russia are guilty of the aggression unleashed by Putin. The blood of thousands of Ukrainians will remain on our conscience forever. The war has brought shame on Russia. But this inglorious coin has another side. The Russian leadership is responsible not only for criminal aggression against the people of Ukraine, but also for the death of thousands of its own soldiers, especially non-ethnic Russian soldiers whom the Kremlin obviously feels less sorry for, regarding them as cannon fodder that can be dumped on the front line.

It is possible to understand on a personal level the Ukrainians who believe that the majority of war crimes have been committed by Buryats. They are under stress, they are distraught and grief-stricken, they are not up to rational arguments now. Some Russians comport themselves much worse in this situation, and I’m not talking about Putinists and my completely brainwashed fellow citizens. I mean the so-called “cultured” liberal crowd.

Many people today are wondering why so many Buryats are fighting in Ukraine. Video blogger Karen Shainyan even bothered to go to Ulan-Ude to get an answer, where he shot a video that has racked up almost 300 thousand views on YouTube. Shainyan sought out a wide spectrum of experts, only Buryats themselves were not invited to his intellectual symposium. However, we Buryats were still shown in the form of visual aids, as illustrations to the expert opinions of the sahibs. It is simply impossible to imagine a whole ethnic group, outside of Russia, being so unabashedly deprived of its subjectivity.

A few days ago, the Buryat political exile Dorjo Dugarov and I had a chance to speak on the same topic – “Why are Buryats going off to fight for the Russian army?” – on the Ukrainian TV channel FreeDom. I saw Shainyan’s show literally the next day after our broadcast, and I couldn’t help but notice a parallel: Shainyan denies the subjectivity of Buryats in about the same fashion as Putin denies the subjectivity of Ukraine! That is why it is not surprising that Ukrainian TV journalists bothered to invite Buryats to talk about Buryatia, while a Moscow blogger could not or did not want to find a single Buryat in Ulan-Ude! It is the same imperial rationale, the same disrespect for “inferior” nations as Putin’s. And until Russians rid themselves of imperial thinking, Russia will keep stepping on the same bloody rake over and over again.

Alexander Nevzorov, Russian imperialist and erstwhile champion of Russian armed force in Chechnya, but now an idol of the Russian opposition crowd, has since the beginning of the war repeatedly allowed himself statements suggesting that “the Buryats don’t care who they rape.” The views of the flip-flopping hybrid democrat are especially congenial to those who, wrapped in the redesigned flag of “the other Russia, the good Russia,” want to shift the collective blame for all crimes onto the country’s minorities. But no, the shame of this war will have to be shared equally by our whole country, which has gone off the rails.

Source: Radjana Dugar-DePonte, “Buryats and the ‘Russian world’: ‘The shame of this war will have to be shared equally,'” Sibir.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 12 May 2022, and the slightly different version of this article published on the Radio Svoboda website on 17 May 2022. Radjana Dugar-DePonte is a historian and exiled Buryat political activist. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The People You Meet

Prison camp acquaintances, of course, slightly tweak the picture that can take shape when you read only anti-war media.

I talked to a friend from Krasnoyarsk today. He is currently doing time in a camp in Mari El (he was transferred there from Krasnoyarsk). He says, “A lot of people have left Mari El [for the war].” “Voluntarily?” I ask. “Voluntarily. And why not, the money is good, so they go. Plus there’s looting: they drag things back from there too.” In response to my remark that they might come back home in a coffin, he tries to explain, although he himself does not approve of their actions. “Well, a one-way ticket… People have been pushed to the limit. There’s nothing to live on. But there you can make decent money.”

Basically, you can’t argue with the material attractiveness of going to fight in the war. Here, in the countryside, some earn 20 thousand rubles a month [approx. 300 euros], but there they are promised 200 thousand [approx. 3,000 euros]. Plus looting. And there is seemingly nothing you can do about it. If they are paid, they will go. Especially because it has become harder to survive.

Source: privately posted social media entry whose author is afraid that it could be grounds for charging them with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 207.3. (‘”Public dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” The new law provides for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for knowingly disseminating false information about the Russian Armed Forces.’) Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

In Red River

A spontaneous memorial to those who died in Ukraine has appeared here in Krasnaya Rechka [Red River]. At the moment there are 25 photos, and yet this is far from the largest residential area in Khabarovsk.

Source: Vitaly Blazhevich, Facebook, 15 May 2022. Krasnaya Rechka is a so-called microdistrict (mikroraion) in Khabarovsk’s Industrial district, in the south of the city. Khabarovsk is home to over 600,000 people and is Russia’s twenty-sixth largest city. Translated by the Russian Reader


Ukraine Says Russia is Desperately Hiding True Death Figures – This week, the Security Services of Ukraine revealed that an intercepted phone call exposed how Russia is desperately trying to hide the actual number of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians killed in the conflict in Ukraine.

According to the Ukrainian Security Services, an invading Russian soldier can be heard on the call talking about “makeshift dumpsites” where there are so many corpses piled up that they are around 6 feet high.

“It’s not a morgue, it’s a dump,” the soldier said. “They were just lying one on top of another, it was a dump as tall as a man.”

The soldier, who reportedly sounded tired and dispirited, described how he heard about the mass graveyards from the wife of a soldier who was first reported missing and eventually found at the so-called “dump.”

The wife said that thousands of bodies had been disposed of at the site and that Russians were saying that deceased soldiers left on the site were simply “missing in action.”

Russia Has a Problem – How Many Have Died?

The true number of Russian soldiers killed in the war with Ukraine is unknown, and will likely never be known thanks to the Kremlin’s efforts to hide the figure.

Estimates vary, but reports at the end of April indicated that as many as 25,900 Russian soldiers could have died so far. The number actually came from the same intercepted phone call that revealed how Russia hid the true number of deaths by declaring soldiers missing.

The number was similar to the estimate of 22,800 soldiers offered by Ukraine. The estimate, which was released last month, also suggested that 2,389 armored personnel vehicles, 431 artillery systems, 151 multiple launch rocket systems, and 970 Russian tanks had been destroyed.

As for Ukrainian civilians, the number is also unknown but will likely eventually be determined once the war comes to an end. According to the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission, a total of 7,061 civilian casualties have been verified so far. Among those casualties were 3,381 deaths.

The number, however, is likely to be significantly higher.

“Overall, to date, we have corroborated 7,061 civilian casualties, with 3,381 killed and 3,680 injured across the country since the beginning of the armed attack by the Russian Federation. The actual figures are higher and we are working to corroborate every single incident,” UN spokeswoman Matilda Bogner told a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland this week.

“We have been working on estimates, but all I can say for now is that it is thousands higher than the numbers we have currently given to you,” Bogner added about Russia’s causality figures.

Source: Jack Buckby, “Putin Is Lying: Russia May Have Lost Nearly 26,000 Soldiers in Ukraine,” 1945, 12 May 2022

Moscow, May 9

For the first time in my life (I swear!) I went to the Immortal Regiment march today. Let’s just say I was strongly encouraged to do it. I hesitated, I thought it over, but in the end my curiosity won out. I have been shooting almost nothing for more than two months, because I simply lost any sense of how to go on documenting urban life and civic activism in the new reality. What did I see and hear today? I found super polite people of all ages portraying the ideal “Russian world” in its peaceful aspect. “Nobody here wants war,” a man of about forty-five, holding a portrait of his grandfather and a flag emblazoned with an image of Stalin, told me. He is one of those who sees “pros and cons” in everything and everyone, and who, although experiencing some discomfort, still fully trusts the vision of the country’s leadership. Maybe some of the marchers were forced by their employers to go to the rally, but it seemed to me that people had gone there quite willingly. They were given free food and beverages: in exchange for such generosity, one can walk in the rain and sun for a couple of hours. The Uzbek workers seemed to be happy, because on Victory Day they are allowed to join the people of Great Russia, who for the rest of the year carefully monitor and maintain the existing division of society into “homeboys” and “aliens.” When, instead of periodic enthusiastic shouts of “Hur-ra-a-a-a-h!” or “Ru-u-u-u-sia!”, the crowd started chanting “fascism will not pass” behind me, I should have fought the good fight, but instead my instinct of self-preservation kicked in and I stupidly continued to shoot.

“NOD” = the so-called National Liberation Movement

Source: anatrrra, LiveJournal, 10 May 2022. Introductory text translated and photos reprinted with the author’s kind permission. Go to the original post to see their completely stunning photo reportage in full. Translated by the Russian Reader

V (Z) Day in Petersburg

Footage of Victory Day celebrations on Palace Square in Petersburg, 9 May 2022

Victory over fascism was celebrated in Petersburg to the song “I Am Russian.” Alexander Beglov, the city’s governor, spoke at Palace Square.

Congratulating the citizens of Petersburg on May 9, [Beglov] recalled the “fight against fascism and Nazism today.”

“Our soldiers in Ukraine are defending Donbas. They are defending us, our historical memory, and the heroic deeds of our grandfathers. Our president, the son of a front-line soldier, has stood up against the Nazis. He has united us all. We are united, we are strong, and we will win!” he said.

After his congratulations, a military ensemble came on stage to sing the song “I Am Russian.” During its performance, footage of either actual military operations or exercises by the Russian Army was shown on a big screen.

Source: Rotunda, 9 May 2022. Video courtesy of a Rotunda reader. Translated by the Russian Reader


“I’m Proud That I’m [an Ethnic] Russian.” A poster for a concert at the Gavrila Derzhavin Estate Museum on the Fontanka River Embankment in Petersburg, on 22 May 2022. The concert will be performed by the Boris Troyanovsky Great Russian Orchestra, under the direction of Anna Drozdovich. Thanks to Marina Varchenko for the snapshot.

Absolutely Horizontal

Olga lived in Mariupol for many years. Until February 24, she worked as a courier, while her husband worked at the Azovstal steel works, and their two children studied at school. Since early March 2022, due to the so-called special operation, Mariupol has been under siege, and fighting has been going on in the city. In the middle of the month, when humanitarian corridors opened up, the family was able to get to Donetsk, and from there they took a bus to Petersburg. Their bus tickets were bought by volunteers — ordinary people who are not connected with government agencies. They also met the Mariupol residents in Petersburg and housed them in their apartment for the night, and then took them to Ivangorod, where Olga and her relatives crossed the Estonian border. The family is now in Finland.

There are many similar stories. In Petersburg, hundreds of residents help transit refugees every day. There are so many people willing to help that all requests — from putting up a family of five people and two dogs to transporting a nursing mother with a baby to Ivangorod — are claimed by volunteers in a matter of minutes. Over the border, in the Estonian city of Narva, Ukrainians are also welcomed by volunteers. This is the story of how ordinary citizens sat and watched the news, feeling powerless, but then found an opportunity to help others and themselves.

How Volunteering Heals Witness Trauma
Alexander from Petersburg is an artist. If it weren’t for [the war], he would now be engaged in art making. “I won’t be getting around to art anytime soon, but there will be food for it,” he says.

In April, Alexander and other volunteers launched a platform on the internet where they coordinate requests for assistance in crossing the border with Estonia and (less often) Finland. For security reasons and at the request of the volunteers, we are not publishing a link to this resource. Currently, there are more people willing to help than requests for help: people span up the requests in minutes.

Here is an example of a typical request: “A family is coming from Mariupol: a grandmother, grandfather, their daughter, grandson (12 years old), and a pregnant cat. You need to meet them at the train station, feed them, provide overnight accommodation, chip the cat and put the family on the bus to Tallinn the next morning.”

“Society has been traumatized. People were watching the news and tortured by a feeling of impotence, so we created a platform where we try to cure this powerlessness. I have the feeling that any problem can be solved en masse. People are competing for the opportunity to help,” says Alexander, “and so [the campaign] has turned out absolutely horizontal. People find the requests on their own and fulfill them  on their own. In the past, I worked on the problems in my neighborhood, and back then it was several activists dragging the whole movement like locomotives, but now the wave rolls on by itself.”

We thought we were going to disappear inside Russia, the refugees tell local volunteers. People travel mostly in groups. Most of them are women, children, and the elderly. There are fewer men. “Many people are traveling with their pets,” says Alexander. In addition to Mariupol and the surrounding area, they come from the Kharkiv region, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They are going to European countries, but some seek to  return to Ukraine as quickly as possible because they have relatives there, they can speak their native language, and they don’t have to deal with the “refugee” label.

It is not only Petersburgers who have been helping them to make the journey to the Russian-Estonian border. There are also hundreds of volunteers in Moscow. The Petersburgers are now establishing contacts in Rostov, Krasnodar, and Belgorod, the [southern] Russian cities through which the refugees travel most often.

“The other day I came to my senses, looked up from the screen, and realized that nothing was hurting inside me. I haven’t watched the news for more than a week and I don’t know what is happening in the political space. I have a specific task, it is very simple and clean. Unlike everything else, I have no doubt that it’s a good thing,” says Alexander. “Everyone wants to do good, and helping refugees certainly satisfies this need.”

How Natalia Got from Mariupol to Vilnius via Petersburg
Natalia got from Ukraine to Lithuania thanks to the internet platform where Alexander volunteers.

Previously, she worked as a cook in the Shchiriy Kum retail chain. She has two daughters: one is a high school student, the other, a university student. On the morning of February 24, Natalia went to work as usual. “I heard that there had been an explosion somewhere. But in Mariupol this is so routine that no one paid it any mind. (Echoes of the fighting have been audible in Mariupol since 2014, and most residents were used to the sounds of distant explosions and shooting — The Village.) When I arrived at work, I realized that things were serious. I finished up by three o’clock, and they let us go home. I didn’t go to work anymore after that.”

Natalia and her family remained in Mariupol until March 23. There was no “serious fighting” in her neighborhood, so she and her daughters stayed in their apartment, not in a basement or a bomb shelter. “But our things were packed to leave at any moment,” she says. The electricity in the city had been turned off, and the water was also turned off, so the family went to a spring to get water. Then the gas was turned off, so they had to cook on a bonfire.

When the fighting got close, Natalia, her girls, and her eldest daughter’s boyfriend went to the outskirts of city, where “there were buses from the [Donetsk People’s Republic].” They went on one of these buses to her parents who live near Mariupol and stayed there for three weeks. Then all four of them traveled to Taganrog [a Russian city approximately 120 km east of Mariupol]. At the local temporary accommodation point, they were offered a choice: they could go either to Khabarovsk or to Perm. Natalia didn’t want to go to Khabarovsk or Perm. She needed to get to Lithuania, where a friend of hers lives. That was when a Mariupol acquaintance put her in touch with the Petersburg volunteers.

“The vbolunteers bought us tickets to Petersburg. We got to Rostov, where we boarded a train. In Petersburg, we were met by Ivan, who took us home to eat. We washed up and changed clothes, and he took us to get on a minibus to Ivangorod,” Natalia says. The Mariupol residents crossed the Russian-Estonian border on April 23. “At the Russian border, they asked [my daughter’s boyfriend] where he was going and why.” The Petersburg volunteers had put Natalia in touch with Narva volunteers, and so the family immediately boarded a free bus to Riga.

Natalia is currently in Vilnius. She has no plans to leave — she no longer has the strength to travel with suitcases. “We’ve rented a room. We’re going to look for jobs,” she says.

How to Help via Twitter
“It all started with the fact that I felt helpless and useless. I really wanted to do something,” says Katya from Petersburg.

You can find out about helping refugees who are traveling to Europe via Petersburg on various websites. The one on which the artist Alexander volunteers is the largest. There are others. For example, Katya saw such a request on Twitter. In mid-April, a friend of hers asked whether anyone could welcome a family (a mother, son and daughter) and an 18-year-old girl who was traveling with them for a couple of days. Katya responded. The family was put up by her friend, while Katya took in the girl. “She met the family she came with two weeks before [the war]. They went for a walk once with the boy, and he decided to take her with him. Her mother refused to leave, and so now the girl is all alone, without relatives here,” says Katya.

Katya met the girl at the Moscow Railway Station and they traveled the rest of the way to her house. The question arose: how to talk to a person who has country has been invaded by your own country? “Either we were a match, or the girl herself is this way, but it was easy to communicate with her, like with a sister,” says Katya. They sat down to drink tea, and the girl recounted in a calm voice how one day a tank drove up to the nine-story building in Mariupol where she was hiding in a bomb shelter, raised its turret, and began shooting into the distance. “I was bored, and I started counting. It fired seventy shots,” the girl said.

Before the girl left, Katya and her guest hugged tightly. The Mariupol family eventually stayed in Sweden, while the girl ended up in Germany. “I was constantly thinking about what is it like to live when your city is gone, when it has been wiped off the face of the earth,” says Katya.

What Ivangorod, the Transit Point for Refugees Going to Estonia, Looks Like
It takes two hours to drive from Petersburg to Ivangorod. At the outskirts of the city, you need to show the frontier guards a passport or a special pass for entering the border zone. Refugees are allowed through with an internal Ukrainian passport. A kilometer from the checkpoint, on a pole right next to the highway, storks have built a large nest.

Ivangorod is home to around nine thousand people. Its main attraction is a medieval fortress. In the six years that have passed since The Village‘s correspondents last visited the city, it has become prettier. The local public spaces have been beautified under the federal government’s Comfortable Environment program.

Estonia can be seen from the bank of the Narva River. To get to the European Union, you need to walk 162 meters across the Friendship Bridge. At the entrance there is a hut where insurance used to be sold, but now it is abandoned, its windows broken. People walk down the slope carrying bags and plastic sacks stuffed with things. The local children ride scooters. Closer to the shore, the children turn right onto the embankment, which the local authorities attempted to beautify in the 2010s with funding from the EU. The people carrying bags go to the left.

There are several dozen people at the border checkpoint. A heart-rending meow resounds from the middle of the queue. A woman removes a black jacket from a pet carrier: a hairless Sphynx cat stares at her indignantly.

“Maybe I should let him out on the grass?”

The people in the queue say there is no need, that they will get through quickly. But it seems that this forecast is too optimistic.

“Are they all Ukrainians?” a man with a reflector asks loudly. The people in front of him shrug their shoulders. “Are they Maidanovites? Refugees? Are they fleeing from the nationalists?”

Someone argues that the frontier guards should organize two queues — “for people and for refugees” — to make the border crossing go more quickly.

Under the bar at the border restaurant Vityaz hangs a homemade “Peace! Labor! May!” banner and an image of a dove. On the way to the Ivangorod fortress there is a memorial stone dedicated to “the militiamen, volunteers, and civilians who perished and suffered in the crucible of the war in the Donbas.” The Village‘s correspondents did not encounter a single letter Z — the symbol of the “special operation” — in Ivangorod. Nor they did encounter a single pacifist message either.

How Narva Helps Transit Refugees
At the border checkpoint, people are met by numerous volunteers from various associations, including the Friends of Mariupol. “These are all private initiatives,” says Narva volunteer Marina Koreshkova.

“We have been seeing exhausted people,” says Marina. “Many are in rough psychological condition, and they really want to talk. We listen to them for an hour, two, three — we empathize with them and share important information. People say that while they were traveling through Russia, they saw the Z, heard unpleasant messages addressed to Ukrainians, and were forced to put up with it and remain silent just to get to Europe. But I often see examples of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe people are just afraid to say the wrong thing.”

Six years ago, Marina and her children moved to Narva from Petersburg, because she understood that the situation in Russia was getting worse. In Russia, she was a lawyer, working for ten years in a government committee on social policy, then as an arbitration manager. She started her life from scratch in Narva, and is now studying new professions. She is a member of Art Republic Krenholmia and Narva Meediaklubi, nonprofits engaged in civil society development and social and creative projects.

On April 10, Marina received a call from the manager of the Vaba Lava Theater Center, who said that they had decided to temporarily convert a hostel for actors into an overnight accommodation for refugees. Soon, the Narva Art Residence also let transit refugees into its hostel for artists. Then the Ingria House, located near the train station, equipped a room to accommodate Ukrainians. And on May 1, a Narva businessman temporarily vacated his office, located near the border, for daytime stays.

“For the first week, Sergei [Tsvetkov, another volunteer] and I tried to do everything ourselves. We quickly realized that at this pace we would burn out or get sick. Now about sixty local volunteers are involved, and people have come from Tallinn to help. The number of people helping out has been growing every day. Local residents collect the refugees’ laundry for washing, and bring them food and medicine.”

Almost none of the refugees remain in Narva. “The proximity to the border generates a new sense of uncertainty for them,” Marina argues. In addition, the region’s refugee registration office, which enables Ukrainians to gain a foothold in Estonia, has been closed. The nearest one still in operation is in Tartu [a distance of 180 km from Narva by car].

Narva is also “the most Russian city in NATO.” Only four percent of the city’s population is ethnic Estonian, and thirty-six percent of residents are Russian passport holder. “I don’t have time to read social media, but until April 10, I constantly observed negative comments [from Narva residents] about the refugees, although I have not seen any outward aggression in the city,” says Marina.

She believes that a welcoming station where refugees could get basic information and relax inside in the warmth should be equipped at the border. “It was quite cold in late April. People were freezing on the border outside in the wind, then thawing out for an hour and not taking off their outerwear.”

There is not even a toilet on the Russian side of the border, however.

Source: “‘An absolutely horizontal business’: How residents of Petersburg and Narva are helping Ukrainian refugees going to Europe,” The Village, 5 May 2022. Image (below) courtesy of The Village. Thanks to JG for the story and the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

______________

Umm Khaled hardly leaves the tent where she lives in northwest Syria, and she says she doesn’t pay attention to the news. But she knows one reason why it is getting harder and harder to feed herself and her children: Ukraine.

“Prices have been going up, and this has been happening to us since the war in Ukraine started,” said the 40-year-old, who has lived in a tent camp for displaced people in the last rebel-held enclave in Syria for the past six years since fleeing a government offensive.

Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the increase since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24. The impact is worsening the already dangerous situation of millions of Syrians driven from their homes by their country’s now 11-year-old civil war.

The rebel enclave in Syria’s northwest province of Idlib is packed with some 4 million people, most of whom fled there from elsewhere in the country. Most rely on international aid to survive, for everything from food and shelter to medical care and education.

Because of rising prices, some aid agencies are scaling back their food assistance. The biggest provider, the U.N. World Food Program, began this week to cut the size of the monthly rations it gives to 1.35 million people in the territory.

The Ukraine crisis has also created a whole new group of refugees. European nations and the U.S. have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced within Ukraine’s borders.

Aid agencies are hoping to draw some of the world’s attention back to Syria in a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians that begins Monday in Brussels, hosted by the U.N. and the European Union. The funding also goes toward aid to the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Last year, the EU, the United States and other nations pledged $6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that fell well short of the $10 billion that the U.N. had sought — and the impact was felt on the ground. In Idlib, 10 of its 50 medical centers lost funding in 2022, forcing them to dramatically cut back services, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.

Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed several hundred families around the country and found 87% were skipping meals to meet other living costs.

“While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to demand world attention, donors and governments meeting in Brussels must not forget about their commitment to Syria,” NRC’s Mideast Regional Director Carsten Hansen said in a report Thursday.

The U.N.’s children’s agency UNICEF said more than 6.5 million children in Syria are in need of assistance calling it the highest recorded since the conflict began. It said that since 2011, over 13,000 children have been confirmed killed or injured.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is dwindling fast, saying it has received less than half of its funding requirements for this year. “We urgently need nearly $20 million for the cross-border operations” in Syria, the agency said in a statement.

Umm Khaled is among those who rely on food aid. With her aid rations reduced, she has gone deeper in debt to feed her family.

Her husband and eldest son were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in their home city of Aleppo in 2016. Soon after, she escaped with her three surviving children to the rebel enclave in Idlib province. Ever since, they have lived in a tent camp with other displaced people on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border.

Her family lives on two meals a day — a small breakfast and a main meal late in the afternoon that serves as lunch and dinner. Her only income is from picking olives for a few weeks a year, making 20 Turkish liras ($1.35) a day.

“We used to get enough rice, bulgur, lentils and others. Now they keep reducing them,” she said by telephone from the camp. She spoke on condition her full name is not made public, fearing repercussions. She lives with her two daughters, ages six and 16, and 12-year-old son, who suffered head and arm injuries in the strike that killed his brother and father.

The price of essential food items in northwest Syria has already increased by between 22% and 67% since the start of the Ukraine conflict, according to the aid group Mercy Corps. There have also been shortages in sunflower oil, sugar and flour.

Mercy Corps provides cash assistance to displaced Syrians to buy food and other needs and it says it has no plans to reduce the amount.

“Even before the war in Ukraine, bread was already becoming increasingly unaffordable,” said Mercy Corps Syria Country Director, Kieren Barnes. The vast majority of wheat brought into northwest Syria is of Ukrainian origin, and the territory doesn’t produce enough wheat for its own needs.

“The world is witnessing a year of catastrophic hunger with a huge gap between the resources and the needs of the millions of people around the world,” said WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.

In many of its operations around the world, WFP is reducing the size of the rations it provides, she said. Starting this month in northwest Syria, the provisions will go down to 1,177 calories a day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of commodities, including wheat flour, rice, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur wheat, sugar and oil.

Rising prices have increased the cost of WFP’s food assistance by 51% since 2019 and that cost will likely go even higher as the impact of the Ukraine crisis is felt, Etefa said.

Earlier in the year, before the Ukraine conflict began, a 29% jump in costs prompted the Czech aid agency People in Need to switch from providing food packages to giving food vouchers. The vouchers, worth $60, buy less food than the group’s target level, but it had to take the step to “maximize its coverage of food assistance to the most vulnerable,” a spokesperson told The Associated Press.

As the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is on the verge of becoming yet another forgotten crisis,” Assistant U.N. Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.

In northwest Syria, “a staggering 4.1 million people” need humanitarian aid, Msuya said — not just food, but also medicines, blankets, school supplies and shelter. She said almost a million people in the territory, mainly women and children, live in tents, “half of which are beyond their normal lifespan.”

Many fear that the situation could only get worse in July, because Russia may force international aid for the northwest to be delivered through parts of Syria under the control of its ally, President Bashar Assad.

Currently, aid enters the Idlib enclave directly from Turkey via a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The U.N. mandate allowing deliveries through Bab al-Hawa ends on July 9, and Russia has hinted it will veto a Security Council resolution renewing the mandate.

A Russian veto would effectively hand Assad control over the flow of aid to the opposition enclave and the U.S. and EU had warned earlier they will stop funding in that case.

The result will be a severe humanitarian crisis, likely triggering a new flood of Syrian migrants into Turkey and Europe, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs warned in a report.

Umm Khaled said she has no choice but to endure her deteriorating living conditions.

“They keep reducing our food basket,” she said. “May God protect us if they cut it completely.”

Source: Bassem Mroue, “Syrians in desperate need of aid hit hard by Ukraine fallout,” AP News, 8 May 2022. Thanks to Harald Etzbach for the story.

Children

PAZ-3205 bus. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I have spent half the day wandering around Orenburg on various errands. At a crossing, I saw a yellow PAZ bus, marked “Children” and with a flashing light. I thought, wow, how they take care of their children’s safety. But I didn’t look inside. But now I have just seen a column of three yellow “Children” buses with flashing lights — and it wasn’t children inside them, but soldiers.

Source: Jenya Kulakova, Facebook, 6 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Sometimes it seems that United Russia has reached the limits of cynicism and nothing they do can surprise you. But their functionaries hand a crippled soldier a package of buckwheat and a bottle of sunflower oil, shove the party logo in his hand, and proudly post the photo. And it becomes clear that United Russia’s cynicism is a bottomless pit.

Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 5 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


If anyone did not understand why I think that my daughter should not go to school in the Russian Federation, this is her class and homeroom teacher at a fucking Victory Day trivia competition.

Fortunately, my daughter didn’t go to school today.

Source: Leda Garina, Facebook, 6 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader