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Rehearsals outside Moscow for a military parade to honor the 75th anniversary of the USSR’s victory against Nazi Germany. March 29, 2020.
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‘Unprecedented preventative measures’ Rehearsals for Moscow’s aborted Victory Parade infected more than 300 cadets and officers with COVID-19, investigative report concludes

Source: Proekt
Rehearsals outside Moscow for a military parade to honor the 75th anniversary of the USSR’s victory against Nazi Germany. March 29, 2020.
Rehearsals outside Moscow for a military parade to honor the 75th anniversary of the USSR’s victory against Nazi Germany. March 29, 2020.
Russian Defense Ministry / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

At least 376 people, including several minors, were diagnosed with COVID-19 after rehearsing outside Moscow for the capital’s May 9 Victory Day parade, according to a new investigative study by the website Proekt

Cadets, their parents, and friends of soldiers who participated in the exercises told Proekt that the rehearsals took place on three occasions between March 25 and April 16 (during which time officials in Moscow and the Moscow region had already started imposing lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus). The drills apparently didn’t stop until Vladimir Putin indefinitely postponed the city’s Victory Day parade.

The rehearsals were supposed to include 42 military units from 17 different regions across Russia, as well as a combined orchestra of the Defense Ministry and National Guard, the Victory Parade flag group, the Young Army Cadets National Movement, and Cossacks of the Great Don Army. Roughly 15,000 people were expected to take part in the parade, though it’s unknown how many participated in the rehearsals. 

According to Proekt, cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among soldiers and cadets in at least six units, institutes, and academies that were involved in the parade rehearsals. This list includes:

  • The Suvorov School in Tver (90 cadets and 16 officers have tested positive for COVID-19)
  • The Nakhimov Naval School (100 cadets and 20 officers)
  • The Khalilov Moscow Military Music College (purportedly 100 people infected)
  • Moscow’s 154 Independent Preobrazhensky Regiment (number of infected is unknown)
  • Voronezh’s Zhurkov and Gagarin Air Force Academy (number of sick is unknown, but cadets’ parents talk about “mass infections”)

The Suvorov School

Cadets at Tver’s Suvorov School say they resided at a military unit in Krasnoznamensk, outside Moscow, during rehearsals for the capital’s Victory Day parade. The school sent 150 cadets and 16 officers for the rehearsals. After drills began, five cadets came down with fevers and were placed in isolation, but they remained in contact with the other cadets at the cafeteria and shared the same bathrooms. “They wore masks, but just cloth, not medical masks. They stuffed napkins inside,” one cadet told Proekt. After returning to Tver, 15 cadets reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, though Defense Ministry officials confirmed only eight cases.

Cadets at the school say the disease could have spread from the officers and standard-bearers who traveled to the rehearsal grounds outside Moscow or from the head of the school, who met with the head of the Nakhimov Naval School, Rear Admiral Anatoly Minakov (who has tested positive for coronavirus, sources told Proekt and the Telegram channel Baza). 

The Nakhimov Naval School

Cadets at the Nakhimov Naval School told Proekt that their rehearsal group stayed in dormitories at the Defense Ministry’s Military University in Moscow, separately from their command officers. The cadets never reached the main rehearsal grounds in Albino and instead conducted drills on the Military University’s campus, while the school’s officers did travel to Alibino and into Moscow itself. In the first three weeks of exercises, 25 cadets and several officers were taken to the hospital with high temperatures. When another 31 cadets and 14 officers were diagnosed with the coronavirus, the entire group of cadets was isolated at a sanatorium outside Moscow, where “almost everyone was diagnosed with the virus,” one cadet at the school told Proekt. Sources told the website that roughly 10 cadets at the Nakhimov Naval School are currently sick with COVID-19.

Sick cadets from the Khalilov Moscow Military Music College were also reportedly isolated at a sanatorium outside Moscow, but most have since recovered from the illness, and only 20 of the original 50 cadets are still recuperating.

The Defense Ministry’s Military University

In late April, several cadets at the Defense Ministry’s Military University started feeling unwell (military officials have denied an outbreak of coronavirus at the school). According to Proekt, the university didn’t start testing for COVID-19 until May 5. Cadets, officers, and officers’ families have now fallen ill. “Everyone at the university is sick,” one officer’s wife reportedly told a visiting doctor.

On May 9, the Military University in Moscow held a graduation ceremony where dozens of cadets marched throughout the campus. Deputy Defense Minister Andrey Kartapolov also participated in the event. According to Proekt, the marching group included a woman who was awaiting the results of a coronavirus test. After the ceremony, she learned that she had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Proekt’s sources say they are confident that parade rehearsals outside Moscow are responsible for the mass spread of coronavirus among cadets and soldiers. Students at the Budyonny Military Academy say only a handful of the people who took part in the rehearsals in Albino were wearing masks, though Russia’s Defense Ministry said previously that drill participants observed “unprecedented preventative measures.” 

At the time of this writing, Russia’s Defense Ministry had not commented on Proekt’s report. According to the military official statistics, as of May 10, the Defense Ministry has confirmed coronavirus infections in 1,723 soldiers, 1,132 cadets, and 55 cadet instructors — a total of 2,910 people.

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Summary by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock