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Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Soldiers Still in Ukraine; Kremlin Announces Compensation for Missing and Killed Servicemen
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Financial Times reporter Courtney Weaver has found Russian soldiers in Lugansk.

The Kremlin has been insisting it has no military in Ukraine, and Ukrainian journalists and bloggers often find it hard to get the world to believe them until a Western reporter can confirm it.

Weaver found the soldiers at the Weeping Willow cafe in Lugansk -- which was open as the city struggles back from the ruins of war:

Soon they invited two western journalists to join their table. One member of the group said he and the others had been in Lugansk for the past month, meaning that they arrived after the ceasefire the rebels signed with Kiev on September 5.

The men’s goal was “training the local population”, said the soldier, a native of Russia’s Voronezh region named Maxim. Asked if he and the others had come as volunteers, he replied sarcastically: “Sure, we’re volunteers. Nobody sent us here.” He continued on a more serious note. “They gave us an order: who wants to go volunteer? And we put our hands up like this,” he said, mocking someone being forced to put their hand up.


Russia has insisted that it has no regular army soldiers in Ukraine, although the leader of the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg, who is also a member of Russia's presidential human rights council, has presented a list of 9 soldiers from the 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade in the North Caucasus who were killed. She has lists of many more.

Russian and Ukrainian journalists from TV Rain,, Pskovskaya Guberniya and other regional newspapers  have confirmed at least 51 soldiers believed to be in Ukraine.

With today's story on RFE/RL and an interview in about a volunteer Russian fighter from Kronshtadt who was killed, the confirmed number rises to at least 52 -- and there is yet further evidence of the Russian presence in Ukraine.

The mother of the 18-year-old man, Yevgeny Pushkarev, found that he had been recruited into the "Novorossiya" army online, and joined several groups supporting the rebels through this popular social network. He then left her a note on the refrigerator on September 5 and said he would be back "in two months". He was killed covering fighters retreating from battle October 10 in Nikishino.


Pushkarev in honor guard uniform on Solidarity Day. Photo via VKontakte.

In August, the Ukrainian  military captured an armored vehicle with Russian soldiers' documents as well as 10 POWs from Russia's 98th Svirsk Division of the Airborne Troops, one of whom was severely burned in battle. They were later returned to Russia.

The independent Russian news site has reported on the units it believes are in Ukraine based on reported and confirmed deaths of Russian soldiers.

While relatives of soldiers and journalists are struggling to confirm the fact of Russia's military presence in Ukraine via lists of missing or dead soldiers, the Russian government itself has just provided a tacit admission that this is a growing problem.

A new law was passed by the State Duma on 10 October and approved by the Federation Council on 15 October adds the category of "missing" or "declared dead" to those whose families may claim compensation.

The law calls for monthly payments "also to members of families of military personnel or citizens recruited in military drafts who have gone missing without news during the fulfillment of the duties of their military service and through the procedure established by law, are declared missing without news or declared dead."

Thus a soldier who is recruited in the draft is entitled to have financial compensation go to his family every month if he goes missing or is declared dead.

The problem is that the Russian military says that some of those fighting in Donbass are "volunteers" who have not passed through the official military drafting process. There is evidence that the military's recruitment commissions were used informally to contact veterans who might be interested in fighting in Ukraine, as Russian journalists have reported.

The law constitutes tacit admission that soldiers missing in Russia have become a problem for the government, as relatives clamor not only for news, but relief as their bread-winners are gone. It also may indicate that the soldiers missing or killed are in fact not volunteers but regular army.

Family members have been threatened with loss of such compensation if they talk to reporters about their missing or killed relations.