The posthumous life of the invaders. How Russia honours its fallen

Some will be honoured with plaques or even monuments in their hometowns. Others will have “Hero’s Desks” put up in their former schools – with a portrait of the slain and an epitaph in their honour.

The death of guard captain Alexei Anufriev was announced to the residents of Uriupinsk in the Volgograd region and the rest of humanity by Natalia Karamysheva, executive secretary of the local branch of Putin’s United Russia (Yedinaya Rossiya) party and, incidentally, a former teacher of the slain soldier. This is the second former pupil she has said goodbye to. Karamysheva remembers Alosha as one of the best graduates of the school, a winner of sports competitions, a leader and a great friend.

All this was written down by Angelina Korobko, who edits obituaries and epigrams about those who invaded and died in Ukraine on the local web portal “Krivoye Zierkalo”. On this occasion, Korobko mentioned that the day before, on May 12, a junior sergeant, commander of the artillery reconnaissance section Mikhail Puriasyev, was buried in the village of Verkhnyi Balykly, while on May 11, 19-year-old pointman Mikhail Efremov was buried in Frolov.

So Angelina Korobko writes farewell notes, and the Polish intelligence services hopefully read them carefully. Thousands of obituaries, biographical notes, epitaphs and epigrams published from the western borders of the empire to Sakhalin are also a mine of knowledge for sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and all sorts of researchers of Russia and its pathologies.

Lots of Cargo 200

From coast to coast scribes like Korobko bend over the keyboard to keep the chronicles of death. In fairness, however, it must be admitted that comrade journalist Angelina does not have as much work as necro-journalists elsewhere. The Volgograd region is, by Putin’s Russia standards, quite wealthy, which means there is no abject poverty there, so there aren’t as many people willing to serve the regime as cannon fodder. You won’t find many dead from Moscow (except the crew of the famous cruiser, Putin’s sunken gem), St Petersburg, rarely from big cities and areas where oil or gas has been discovered, so it’s possible to make a living.

It is a different matter in Dagestan, North Ossetia, Altai Krai, Buryatia, Khakassia, Tuva, or villages throughout the empire. It is from there that conscripts or contract soldiers and their blood flow. For the inhabitants of these regions of Russia, service in the army is often the only way to escape from these places, from overwhelming poverty. And the regime knows how to tempt, so they sign contracts and then die in Ukraine.

This is how one internet user derisively commented on Telegram, Russia’s most popular social media:

“Brothers Russians. Many people ask why there are so many Cargos 200 (this is how zinc coffins with soldiers’ corpses are referred to in military nomenclature) from Buryatia and Dagestan. Well, it is because our authorities are protecting the elite from Moscow, St Petersburg and other big cities. This is the heart of Russia, and it must be protected in order to sustain the economy, culture and morale. I think this is the right thing to do. It’s a very wise decision by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, and it even helps to improve the living standards of the population. Our president has fooled everyone again.”

The post, embellished with Russian flags, ends with the cry “God with us”, which is no doubt a reference to the German “Gott mit uns”.

Returned without legs

Such voices from big cities usually appear on the occasion of great funerals, that is, when some unit from Ryazan (where there is a higher command school of the Airborne Forces) or Kazan is cut down. Wreaths on fresh graves overflow the cemetery alleys. Just like in Chelyabinsk, when on one day – 23 April – 7 men from the guards’ special forces unit were buried in one cemetery.
Or during such celebrations as on 6 May, the day of St George the Victorious, patron of the Russian armed forces, in Saratov, where in the (aptly named) Victory Park on Sokolaya Gora, Governor Valery Radayev read out the names of 44 regional residents killed during the invasion of Ukraine – a few days later he and several other governors resigned.

Kyiv services a phone call in which a weeping Russian woman tells us that 1,500 soldiers were sent to Ukraine from some unit (no details are given) and 30 returned. Among them is the husband of her relative Alina, father of three children. He came back, but without both legs. So it’s like the old Austrian soldier song “In Olomouc on Fiszplac”: “the enemy f... blew away, now I’ve got gold orders, but I have no f... legs.”

Teachers reminisce

Why was it the teacher who officially announced Corporal Anufriev’s death? The school seems to have a perverse, dark relationship with the army. It is in schools that many funeral ceremonies take place. In the gymnasiums and corridors, coffins containing corpses of those killed in Ukraine are displayed, and students – boys in white shirts, girls in aprons and with big white bowknots in their braids – stand guard. And sometimes members of the youth organisation Yunarmia. It is Putin’s equivalent of Hitler-Jugend.

Teachers are always talking to the media about what a great student and helpful colleague Aleksander was. – Alexander studied in our school from first to fifth grade... We are proud that such a student went to our school and we thank the family for raising such a wonderful son and grandson – says Alexei Kozyrev, headmaster of Kokui Primary School, to, remembering 20-year-old Alexander Fedorov.

“Stan studied very well. He was diligent, inquisitive and hard-working. He never broke discipline. Since childhood, he dreamt of becoming a military man, so he never showed weakness either at school, in sports or at work” – wrote about their graduate, cadet Stanislav Kazancev, his school in Yuludur.

Tatiana Sladkova, teacher, on 19-year-old Danilo Pestrikov: – He treated teachers with respect and was friendly with his classmates. He talked to everyone. He didn’t always do well in his studies, but he tried. He always did his homework.

Most of the memories of those killed come from teachers, classmates, acquaintances, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles. Widows are also talkative.

– He would have been proud of himself that he died – so believes widow Olga Shumakova, who tells the 74.RU portal about her husband Vladislav, who was killed in Ukraine. Who knows, maybe the resurrected private Shumakov would gladly let himself be killed a second time. – He was such a patriot that he set the Russian anthem as the ringtone on his phone. He was constantly thinking about the President. If there were any political disputes at home, no one was allowed to speak ill of Putin – the widow recalls.

The funeral of the private in the village of Trimazovskoye in Chelyabinsk Region was attended even by representatives of the local poultry farm, Chebarkulskaya Ptica, where Vladislav’s grandparents worked all their lives. According to director Pyrsikov, three relatives of the farm’s employees have already died in Ukraine.

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Memories of parents appear rarely, as if they almost did not existent. They are there, but probably do not have the strength to speak. Alena Yakovleva learned of her son’s death when she received a call from his unit to come for a DNA test. It was about identifying Nikita’s remains. The mother tells the 74.RU portal that he was a great car lover and collected model cars, so she brought them to the funeral. Before leaving with the unit, the 22-year-old corporal bought himself a 14-year-old Lada, but only managed to drive it four times.

A resident of Zheleznogorsk, Elena Minkina, found out about her son’s death in a similar way to Alena Yakovleva. The military commissar of the city asked her to deliver Alexander’s genetic material. What did the woman bring to the garrison office – a hair from a hairbrush, a toothbrush, some part of her son’s clothing? – is unknown. We do know that she prayed for three days while waiting for the results of the DNA test, as reported by the NGS24 portal, but it turned out that what was found in the cart burnt near Irpin was, after all, the remains of her son.

But there are other ways to notify families of the possible death of their loved ones. What are modern communication and social networks for? Svetlana B (the Meduza portal does not provide details) can find out what possibly happened to her son Alexei by following the account of the brigade he serves in on WhatsApp. The administrator of the account, presumably a military officer from that unit, posts messages every day: “The day has passed without any changes”. Or: “No negative news”. But also such: “There is negative information”. Then Svetlana panics.

He fell true to his oath

According to posthumous notes, many Russians had virtually no military training. Private Roman Akimov from the Siberian village of Shapkino was 18 years old when he was killed near Izum on 17 March 2022. His family learned of his death only on 10 April. He was buried five days later in the same village where he was born and went to school. He joined the army half a year after finishing school, signed a contract right away and three months later was already in Ukraine.

The story of 20-year-old Nikita Maliavin from Niaziepietrovsk in the Chelyabinsk Region is similar. After graduating from vocational school, he was drafted into the army, immediately signed a contract, and three months later landed in the war zone. His parents had to travel as much as 2,000 kilometres to Rostov, so that his remains could be identified on the basis of DNA.

The biographies of thousands such as Maliavin or Akimov, already written down to the end, are practically the same. The slain private, corporal, sailor went to primary schools and highschool in: Uyskoye, Kokuj, Trojski Posad, Asha, Verkhnye Kigi. Then to the secondary school – mostly vocational in Ujskoye, Kokuj, or Vyukhin, Kopiejsko, Derbiszewo, where he was educated as an electrician, welder, operator of agricultural machines, fitter of the thermal power station network, confectioner.

He was called up, he was persuaded to sign a contract, he went to Ukraine to protect the homeland from nationalism, to liberate the Ukrainian population from fascists, to demilitarise, to denazify. And now he is dead. What is left of him is a grave and a mention online that he died: true to his oath, shielding his comrades with his own body, leading out a wounded colleague, engaging in an exchange of fire with the Nazis, thanks to which he saved his unit, until the end, under mortar fire, performing the entrusted task, liberating Donbas, defending Donbas.
Fot. printscreen/
Sat next to a dead man

Some, however, will be left with more than a memory on the portals and social media. Let us return to the school and its lifelong association with the army. More and more of those killed in Ukraine have earned a special school “Hero’s’ Desk”. This project, which has been going on for several years, sometimes concerns the living, but mainly commemorates the fallen during World War II and subsequent wars, including incursive and genocidal ones, such as in Afghanistan or Chechnya. Now it is the turn of those who allowed themselves to be killed in Ukraine for the sake of the regime.

Such a “Hero’s Desk” is actually a tombstone, only that it is wooden and set in a school classroom. On top of the desk is a portrait of the slain and an epitaph in his honour. There are already two such grave boards at the Tikhoretsk highschool in Krasnodar Krai. One for 21-year-old Dmitry Gotovets, who paraded twice on Red Square on Victory Day, May 9. The third parade was 5 days away – he died in Ukraine on 4 May. The other is dedicated to artillerist Lieutenant Maxim Svetlenko, who also paraded in front of Putin, but only once.

To sit in such a desk with a dead man is an honour. It is available to the best students. The message is more or less the following: Vova, Alyosha and you Petukha, study diligently, and when you turn 17, sign a contract with the army. After three months, you will be sent to invade a country, to loot and kill, and you will be burned alive in a tank, then in the school gym we will put up a coffin with your remains, and then we will put a desk in the classroom, as beautiful as your tombstone...

Andrei Kryukov has received an even greater honour. The epitaph dedicated to him and the “coffin portrait” will be admired not only by students and teachers, but by all residents of the settlement of Vaggort in the Komi Republic. A plaque in his memory will hang on the façade of the primary school. Forget Kriukov. Artem Novikov will have a monument! The regional authorities have promised to erect a monument in his home village of Uyskoye in the Chelyabinsk Region. The exact location has not yet been decided. It is possible that the pedestal with the figure of the corporal will stand in such a worthy place as the intersection of Lenin and Marx streets. Readers of the TVP Weekly can judge for themselves whether the place is suitable, and from that intersection start exploring Uyskoye.

Perhaps there is a profound sense in the idea that everything miserable, rotting, decaying, perpetually in disrepair should be named after Lenin, Marx, Dzerzhinsky or the October Revolution.

You can also see Sindor in the Komi Republic. Kniazpogotsky District authorities have promised that a monument to Corporal Ilia Pitsin will be erected in the village.

Funeral at the community centre

Ujskoje and Sindor look similar to all those villages and towns we mentioned in this article. You can type their names into Google and have a look. Are young people fleeing from these places because they are so gloomily miserable, offering no hope, or are these places just so nightmarish because their young inhabitants would rather invade and plunder other countries than do something at home? Russia is losing 350 000 inhabitants every year, and now there is still young blood flowing from it.

After schools, the second most popular place for funeral ceremonies are community centres. A coffin with the corpse of Sergeant Nikolai Grosberg was displayed in such a place on Chapayev Street in the town of Shakhunia.

Here’s an aside: Russia found out that such a city existed in 2019, thanks to journalist Irina Slavina of local magazine Koza.Press. This brave woman was sentenced to a then-record fine of 70,000 rubles from a just-introduced law on showing disrespect to authorities.

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Court-appointed expert Timur Radbil, a PhD in philology, member of the Higher Attestation Commission, academician at the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, professor at the Law Faculty of Nizhny Novgorod University, concluded that “the linguistic cancer used by Slavina carries unambiguous obscene connotations, thus expressing disrespect for the authorities and society”. The point was that when the Shahuni authorities hung a plaque on one of the buildings in honour of Stalin, Slavina proposed that the town be renamed Shahujnia.

Occupant with a telephone

There are rich and ornate biographies of some of the invaders. We can get to know them mainly thanks to the Ukrainian services. Russians love to strut and puff on social media, they have no sense of discretion, so they record themselves, their families and, like exhibitionists, they show it all to the world.

Thanks to such recordings, the film The Occupant. War and Peace in a Russian Officer’s Phone. The entire film was edited from films found in the phone of 24-year-old Lieutenant Yuri Shalayev, who comes from Murmansk. He will have no monument, no plaque, not even a “Hero’s Desk”. For he was taken prisoner and now, thanks to what he recorded, the whole world can admire the Kremlin cadet, a member of the elite of the empire’s officer corps and a graduate of Russia’s most elite military academy – the Command College – in all his glory.

The pre-war recordings are of family situations, trips, but mainly of drunken, delirious libations during which young officers, half-naked or wearing T-shirts, would drink, babble and sing. Undoubtedly, the Ukrainian service chose the most degrading and humiliating things from the phone, but it was Lieutenant Shalayev himself, a Kremlin cadet, who decided that alcoholic séances or the sight of his uncle, completely drunk and inebriated, were worth immortalising.

In 1985, in the song “Russians” from the album “The Dream of Blue Turtles”, Sting naively and tearfully sang: “I hope the Russians love their children too”. Maybe they do, but not enough not to murder someone else’s, not enough not to allow their beloved children, when they grow up, to kill others too, or to allow themselves to be killed in the service of the Soviet, Putinist or any other regime that holds them under its boot.

– Dariusz Matuszak

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by jz
Main photo: Bodies of Russian soldiers who died in settlements north of Kharkiv being transferred by Ukrainians to a refrigerated wagon on May 14, 2022. Photo by Ivan Chernichkin/Zaborona/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
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