“I want you to know that me personally and the country’s leadership share this pain,” Mr. Putin said at the beginning of the meeting. “We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a son, a child.”
Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February with the apparent hope that the government in Kyiv would quickly collapse. As the initial plan failed, and with Russian forces struggling to hold hundreds of miles of front lines, the Kremlin was forced to declare a mobilization of recruits, which it suspended earlier this month after a public backlash on a scale unseen since the start of the invasion.
For many apolitical Russians, the war had finally reached their homes, taking away their husbands and sons. In some cases, relatives had to supply the ill-equipped mobilized men with everything from socks to drones. Many couldn’t reach their loved ones for weeks, anxiously waiting for news.
On Sunday, Ms. Tsukanova’s organization held a news conference in Moscow where many soldiers’ relatives had a chance to tell their stories.
“They have humiliated, deceived and bullied us, so women, we have nothing to be afraid of,” said Ms. Tsukanova, whose son was drafted into the army before the September mobilization and forced to serve at the border with Ukraine with little prior training.
Yelena Kostina said that her nephew was sent from the Lipetsk region in western Russia to the front lines in Ukraine only eight days after he was mobilized.
The newly mobilized men “had to fight with automatic rifles against artillery,” said Ms. Kostina.
Yelena Kalimysheva said that her brother was thrown into battle without any supplies or means of communication, without commanders in the field.
“They were hit by mortar fire,” and were forced to surrender, Ms. Kalimysheva said. “Why,” she asked, “after one week of training, were they thrown into the woods and left there to die?”
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