Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta (partly owned by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev), have been peeling back the secrecy surrounding the thirty-one Russian citizens killed two weeks ago fighting with secessionist militias in southeast Ukraine.
Novaya Gazeta reports that thirty of those killed were ethnic Russians, and the other a Chechen. At least three of the Russians have been buried without publicity in towns around Moscow, it says. One of them, Sergei Zhdanovich, was a military veteran of the Russian suppression of rebellion in Chechnya. In his hometown of Elektrogorsk, near Moscow, he was a active in the local chapters of a veterans’ organization, the Combat Brotherhood, and of United Russia, the political party that holds a majority in Russia’s Duma.
Zhdanovich’s name emerged last week in a report by Russian journalist Maria Turchenkova, who accompanied his body, among the total of thirty-one, as they were shipped back to Russia for burial. Turchenkova reported postings in Russian social media saying Zhdanovich had been an instructor in special operations for the Federal Security Service (FSB). Novaya Gazeta quotes Zhdanovich’s brother as denying this, saying that Zhdanovich had worked with ordinary police, not the FSB secret police.
Novaya Gazeta says it has sent a formal inquiry to Russian state prosecutors asking for an investigation into how Russian citizens, including military veterans, are being recruited and sent into Ukraine to fight as part of the secessionist militias battling to separate Donetsk and Luhansk provinces from Ukraine.