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‘What does missing in action mean? Is my son dead?’ Meduza talks to mothers of conscripts who served aboard the sunken Russian warship Moskva

Source: Meduza

It’s been a week since the sinking of the Russian missile cruiser Moskva. The Ukrainian side reported that it struck the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship with two Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles on April 13. In turn, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the Moskva sustained “serious damage” after an unexplained fire caused ammunition on board to explode; as a result, the warship allegedly sank while being towed to port in “stormy” waters. How many crew members were aboard the cruiser at the time remains unknown (though presumably they numbered in the hundreds). The Russian authorities have yet to confirm any casualties. Indeed, contrary to reports that dozens of sailors were killed, Moscow asserts that the entire crew was saved. Meduza spoke to the mothers of two Moskva crew members, who — despite the Russian Defense Ministry’s statements — haven’t contacted their loved ones since the warship sank.

Tatyana Yefremonko

Mother of 19-year-old conscript Nikita Yefremenko

My son was carrying out his compulsory service on board the cruiser Moskva. He’d been serving since November 2021, after training he was immediately deployed to this ship.

My son didn’t tell me anything. Once he said they were having training and [then] they’d go to sea. This was before the military operations [in Ukraine]. When they said on the news that the cruiser Moskva took part in the combat operations on Zmiinyi Island, my son didn’t even mention it to me. He said nothing. He told me: “I’ll come home and tell you everything.”

When the military operations had just begun, my son didn’t get in touch for about three weeks. He called on March 10. Then a letter arrived. Nikita wrote that they were at sea and there was no connection.

He also wrote that he had changed his mind about remaining under contract (he had planned to become a contract soldier after his compulsory service). But he didn’t say why.

I also strongly advised him against signing a contract before the end of the military operations in Ukraine. I told him that if he wants to continue to serve, then join the police or Rosgvardiya [the Russian National Guard], where it's unlikely that he’d be deployed for military operations.

The last time he called was on April 9, there were 58 days left before his demobilization. Everyone was waiting for him at home, but he just stopped picking up the phone.

I called the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers. They said that they don’t deal with such things. They gave me a phone number I could call. I didn’t even know where exactly I was calling. I said that I was just looking for information about my son. I called all of the hospitals in Sevastopol and I called a hospital in Moscow.

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I asked if there were [injured soldiers in the hospital] who couldn’t remember their own names. They told me there weren’t any. Then the connection dropped and I wasn’t able to get through anymore. 

The same thing happened when I called the Sevastopol Defense Ministry. They told me that my son was missing in action. After that the number was “unavailable.” 

Now I don’t know what to do. I’ll go there myself. I gathered all of the photos of the guys [missing conscripts, whose information has surfaced online]; I printed them out and labeled them today. I’ll go around to all the hospitals and do everything possible. If I don’t find my son, at least I’ll find someone else and help other mothers. 

I don’t know what else to do, I can’t sit at home, but clearly no one is telling me anything. The commanders all say the same thing, that he’s missing in action — but they don’t say where. Where did he go missing? At sea? On land? No one explains the circumstances, no one says how many are wounded and missing. I gathered all of the photos online, I wrote to all of the groups myself. Now I’ll try knocking on doors. 


Towed to port Russian warship Moskva ‘seriously damaged’ after Ukraine claims missile strike


Towed to port Russian warship Moskva ‘seriously damaged’ after Ukraine claims missile strike

Yulia Tsyvova 

Mother of 19-year-old conscript Andrey Tsyvov

I can’t get any information about my son. No one says anything — everyone keeps quiet. We called the recruitment office and the Defense Ministry…

They showed the sailors lined up on TV [editor’s note: on April 16, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video of the Russian Navy’s commander-in-chief meeting with sailors from the sunken cruiser Moskva]. Who did they have lined up there? This still needs to be clarified. Our children weren’t there. I looked at the photos being posted in groups, where people are looking for the missing — there’s already more than ten of them.

I live in the small town of Lenino in Crimea. The day after [the attack on the Moskva] I went to the military unit in Sevastopol. They brought out a list of the missing, there were a lot of people on that sheet of paper, roughly 30 people for sure. No one showed us any other lists.

I asked them to explain — what does “missing in action” mean? Is my son dead? They said no, he just isn’t on active duty and isn’t in the hospital. But where is he?

My son was a conscript soldier, there were a lot of other conscripts on that ship. I’m confident there were 200–300 conscripts on board [editor's note: Meduza cannot confirm these figures]. 

They were always in the combat zone. Nobody asked them anything. They returned for three or four days, then they were sent there again — for another week and a half.

[But] when I found out they were sent into combat I didn’t appeal [to anyone]. My son served on that ship. And I was afraid that he’d be tortured there or something. So we stayed silent. 

Interview by Alexey Slavin

Translation by Eilish Hart

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