Deaths of Russians In Ukraine Are Veiled in Secrecy

In Russia, news of death arrives stealthily.

On state television, the war dead are rarely mentioned. The Defense Ministry hasn’t announced a death toll for nearly three months. Lists of hometown casualties published by local websites were declared state secrets.

But through social media, the horrors of war are trickling through. Ukraine, on the social network Telegram, has been publishing images of enemy corpses, hoping to stir dissent in Russia. Photos of devastated Russian positions, like the failed crossing of the Siversky Donets River last month, where at least 400 soldiers died, offer hints of the violence incinerating untold numbers of young men’s lives.

“You stand there, and your tears don’t even flow anymore,” Aleksandr Kononov, whose brother was killed fighting in Mariupol, told The New York Times in April, recalling the dozens of black body bags he had seen lined up on the floor of a warehouse by a military morgue. “There is no more water left in your body.”

Many relatives of Russian soldiers have gone weeks or even months not knowing whether their sons, husbands and brothers are dead or alive. The Russian military bureaucracy, soldiers’ advocates say, appears to have been unprepared for the scale of the casualties in Ukraine. The Defense Ministry, in its last casualty announcement on March 25, set the count at 1,351 deaths. Western officials say the true toll now could be more than 10 times that.

Some families of the sailors who died aboard the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which had a crew of more than 500, are still struggling to learn the truth two months later. Dmitri Shkrebets, the outspoken father of one conscript aboard, published an angry Telegram post on Monday directed at President Vladimir V. Putin.

“Why are you pretending that nothing happened?” Mr. Shkrebets asked. “We will all die, but not all will be martyrs, someone will have to answer for the blood!”

It was a rare public expression of anger and frustration with the government from a military family. But for much of Russian society, the deaths “are not making such a stunning impression,” Sergei Krivenko, who leads a rights group that provides legal aid to Russian soldiers, said in a telephone interview. In most cases, professional soldiers, rather than conscripts, are dying. They come disproportionately from poor regions, according to Russian journalists who have analyzed death notices.

“They are perceiving deaths as — it’s hard to say ‘normality’ but, in some sense, normality,” Mr. Krivenko said.

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