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War in Ukraine | A Russian city mourns its lost soldiers, but does not blame Putin

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Even under a thick blanket of snow, the cemetery of Russian soldiers killed during the war in Ukraine is awash in color. The graves are covered with wreaths of plastic flowers, and on each mound, flags representing the dead soldier’s unit flutter in the wind.

On a recent Saturday, a woman named Natalia took a brush and carefully brushed the clumps of fresh, sticky snow from her son’s crowns. She removed the red carnations she had brought the previous week, now frozen, and replaced them with a small Christmas tree she bought at the entrance to the cemetery.

Natalia comes at least once a week to tend to the grave of her only son, who was killed in the early days of the war, after his group of soldiers invaded Ukraine and tried unsuccessfully to secure the Hostomel airfield, near Kyiv. What remained of his body arrived in Ryazan several weeks later.

“Even when I’m sick, I come here because I’m afraid he’ll be bored,” she said of her son, whose body arrived just before his 26th birthday.e anniversary. She declined to give her last name, fearing retaliation for speaking out.

” We had to do something “

Many Western opponents of Russia’s war in Ukraine expected mothers like Natalia to become the backbone of a wave of outrage against President Vladimir Putin, and turn into a political force opposing to him. But 10 months into the conflict, that hasn’t happened on a large scale, and certainly not in Ryazan, a city of 500,000 known for its elite paratroop unit.

Natalia said she thought the invasion “should have been better planned,” to minimize casualties, but she did not express anger toward the Russian leadership. “Something had to be done,” she said, referring to Ukraine.

This kind of continued support was a crucial factor in Vladimir Putin’s ability to avoid any significant domestic backlash to his war, allowing him to reaffirm his commitment to pursuing his goals in Ukraine in the face of a series of setbacks.


PHOTO NANNA HEITMANN, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Numerous graves of soldiers recently killed in battle fill the cemetery of Ryazan.

Natalia was alone in the cemetery during her recent visit, but if the number of soldiers buried there is any indication, there are many more grieving mothers like her. There were at least 20 rows of three fresh graves each.

Yet by many accounts, Ryazan, home to two military bases, proudly sends its men to war, even as some return in body bags.

The city, located about 160 km southeast of Moscow, is particularly proud of its paratroopers. A gargantuan sculpture of their logo along the main road celebrates the town as the “home of the VDV”, the initials of an elite paratrooper unit of which Natalia’s son was a member. In the center of the town is a school for the unit’s cadets with, next door, a museum celebrating its history.


PHOTO NANNA HEITMANN, THE NEW YORK TIMES

In the center of town is a school for the cadets of the elite paratrooper unit with a museum next door celebrating its history.

A long corridor documents his participation in various military campaigns and already includes objects from this war.

A proud mother

A 20-minute drive from the cemetery, towards the city center, Marina N. Doronina also expressed her support for the war. His 27-year-old son Vadim was called up just days after Putin announced in late September that Russia would mobilize several hundred thousand troops.

Single mother of two other children, one of whom is severely disabled, Mme Doronina, a home health aide, depends on her eldest son for financial support and physical labor. His roof was “leaking like a sieve” and he had planned to fix it before winter arrived.

“Who’s going to fix my roof now?” she asks. He was also going to fix my fence in the fall. »


PHOTO NANNA HEITMANN, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Marina N. Doronina, whose son went to battle, says she supports the war in Ukraine.

But she said she was not angry that he was sent to war. Nor is it opposed to mobilization in general. She was rather angry with the “system”, which could not grant a delay, or even an exception, to her son.

She communicates with Vadim in Ukraine through the WhatsApp platform. He sends videos of him in the trenches spending time with his fellow soldiers. She feels proud when she sees pictures of him in camouflage, she says.

“This situation has to be resolved one way or another,” she said, echoing Natalia’s vague assertion about Ukraine. But even if she is annoyed with the way the local authorities have managed the mobilization of her son, she expresses her confidence in Vladimir Putin.

Our president is quite wise, and he always does a good job.

Marina N. Doronina

Picking up on a common theme of state television propaganda programs and many ordinary people, she said she not only believed that “the West” was fighting in Ukraine, but also that it was suffering the consequences of the war harder than Russia.

“All of this will settle, and soon everything will be normal,” she added.

target of attacks

Yet something quite out of the ordinary has already happened in Ryazan, which is only 480 km from the border with Ukraine. Its two military installations have made the city the target of one of the deepest Ukrainian military strikes inside Russian territory since the start of the war.

On December 5, two Soviet-made drones fell on bases in Ryazan and near the city of Saratov, further east. In Ryazan, the drone targeted the Dyagilevo air base, a training center for strategic bombing forces. Russia said it intercepted the drone and shot it down, a claim that could not be confirmed, but admitted that three people were killed and five others injured in the attack, which also damaged a bomber. supersonic attack Tupolev Tu-22 m.


PHOTO NANNA HEITMANN, THE NEW YORK TIMES

A statue of Vladimir Lenin sits in downtown Ryazan.

The Russian Defense Ministry blamed Ukraine. Ukraine does not publicly acknowledge the strikes inside Russia, intentionally maintaining ambiguity.

This is a rare example of a Ukrainian strike inside Russian territory. Not far from the base, some residents tried to appear casual in the face of the drone attack.

At the main transport hub in the Dyagilevo neighborhood – a muddy bus stop across from a park where children play above the statue of a Tupolev Tu-16 bomber – 70-year-old Valentina Petrovna insisted that there was “no reason to be afraid”.

Had something changed in his life over the past year that brought seismic changes to Russia and the world? “Nothing,” she insisted, although she said she had many relatives in the military.

We expect our boys to win as soon as possible.

Valentina Petrovna

However, Alina, a 19-year-old medical student, admitted to feeling some fear. She was standing at the bus stop on December 5 when she heard the explosion.

“Everything was shaking,” she said, and the fear that it might happen again affected her holiday mood.

According to Aleksandr Yurov, a specialist in internet technologies, the drone incident has made people pay more attention to the war. “People finally started to worry,” said Yurov, 34, who is against the war.

There’s reason to think it may happen again: On Monday, Moscow said it shot down another Ukrainian drone over the Engels base near Saratov and three people were killed.

more united

Some 200 Ukrainian families have settled in Ryazan, according to Yelena N. Samsonkina, who runs a charity that collects clothes and goods for refugee families — and for Russian troops who played a part in moving them.

“People have become more united here” to support the war effort, assured Mme Samsonkina at the headquarters of his organization.

“Grandmothers are knitting socks and children are writing letters to school” for the troops, she added.

She brushed off a question about whether the army was ill-equipped, given that volunteers had to collect thermoses or other essentials for Russian soldiers. The army has everything it needs, she said, but volunteers can get some items faster than the military bureaucracy.

Mme Samsonkina said her son could be called up, which worries her daughter. But he’s ready to fight, she says, and she herself wouldn’t object to him being called up.

“I’m happy to have a son like that,” she said. How could I feel otherwise? Of course, I’m nervous, I’m very worried. But I’m not going to dissuade him from doing it. »

She said she fully supports the war.

“Putin took the first step,” she said. If he hadn’t, who knows where we would be today? »

This article was originally published in the New York Times.

Learn more

  • 70%
    A survey this month by the Levada Center, an independent polling institute, showed that more than 70% of respondents in Russia “definitely” or “mainly” support the activities of the Russian military, while 64% think the country is moving in the right direction.

    source : The New York Times



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