Used as ‘cannon fodder’, the young Russians sent to their deaths in Ukraine
Twin brothers killed on the same day are among a growing number of young Russians sent to their deaths in Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin is facing backlash as the number of soldiers killed on the front line soars – many of them young conscripts who were never meant to face the worst of the war.
The Russian president is embroiled in a feud with military leaders, who, according to reports, misled him on the use of young soldiers in the cities of Mariupol, Kherson and many others.
Shellshocked soldiers say they were sent over the border under the belief they were “saving” Ukrainians, only to meet a brutal battle raging much longer than promised.
Mothers have accused Putin of using their children as “cannon fodder” who had no idea they were being launched into a full-scale war. “They are young. They were unprepared,” a group shouted at officials earlier this month.
In the city of Novocherkassk, a pair of coffins, draped with the Russian flag and surrounded by hundreds of mourners, were lowered into the ground on Tuesday.
Inside were the bodies of two young men: Alexei and Anton Vorobyov, both 29. They had served side by side.
“Anton would say to me that he loved the service,” Anastasia Novikova, a childhood friend, told the Moscow Times. “I have many memories about Anton, and all of them are good memories. We never had a single fight in 19 years.”
They were killed three weeks into the invasion, leaving behind their partners – one of whom is expecting a child.
Their funeral was one of hundreds taking place across Russia.
Alexander Botalov, 22
Before Alexander Botalov left for war, he promised to return and give his mother a granddaughter.
He was born in a small village in the Yusva region, east of Moscow, the youngest to a big family.
His niece said it was impossible for people to understand just how “wonderful and beloved” he was without speaking to every person who knew him.
“He knew how to make friends and valued friendship. For many guys, he was like a brother,” Ksenia told the outlet.
Alexander, who to his family was known as Sasha and served as a contract soldier from the Perm Territory, would spend hours with his mother in the garden and was always first in line to help with housework.
He would “stand up for girls” and was “cheerful, sympathetic, incredibly friendly and courageous”.
Luka Yurievich, 22
Luka Yuievich was remembered by his teachers for his first love. It was a “classic school romance”, Russian news outlet Vtruda quoted one as saying. “The teachers watched their touching and bright relationship with sympathy.”
He was described as a “serious athlete” who thrived in every sport he tried, and a boy who “valued friendship and learning”.
Alongside his classmates, Luka would wash a local war memorial out of respect for those who served in the Second World War.
“In most of the photographs, a slight half-smile does not leave Luka’s face,” said Olga Pavlovna, a former teacher.
Luka served as a corporal and was presented for the award of the Order of Courage posthumously.
Vladislav Salamatov, 20
“What can I say about Vlad? Everyone loved him,” his mother told Russian outlet Prufy.
The 20-year-old, who served as part of a reconnaissance company, was killed on March 9 – just two weeks after the invasion, leaving behind his parents and sister.
In the ninth grade he was sent to a cadet school, which his mother said “made him into a real man”. His only goal was joining Russia’s military. He was drafted immediately after finishing college.
Vladislav’s mother now asks why he could not serve in administration, rather than going to the front line.
“Everyone is crying,” she said. “The kids are crying, and the teachers are crying. He was an ordinary kid … This is universal grief. Please God let this all end.”
Alexander Bakharev, 23
All the men in Alexander Bakharev’s family were soldiers – and he wanted to follow in their footsteps. Aged 18, he was drafted into the army, then continued his service.
There was only a year’s age difference between him and his sister, so the pair spent every day of his childhood together.
“My brother was always very kind, open, honest,” Victoria told V1 RU. “Everyone probably says so, but Sasha really was always like that.”
Alexander, who served as a private, leaves behind his wife, Katya, and her two children, whom he loved like his own.
“They were waiting for his return, waiting for him to return home, ”said Victoria. “He said that he would definitely return home. And then we found out that Sasha is no more.”
Kirill Ulyashev, 21
At the end of Kirill Ulyashev’s funeral, the priest asked for pallbearers to carry the 21-year-old’s coffin.
“Please don’t. There’s nothing left to hold on to,” Kirill’s parents said, according to the Moscow Times.
Kirill joined the army as a conscript before becoming a paratrooper at the 76th Guards Airborne Assault Division.
“How can you be sure it’s him?” Ira Fedorova, his 20-year-old friend, asked the Moscow Times after his death. “We were told to just accept that he is no more.”
On February 26, Kirill sent a letter to his family telling them that he was safe and everything was ok. He was killed the next day.
Kirill died during an advance on the capital of Kyiv, his body left so damaged that his parents were barred from opening his coffin.