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SINKING OF RUSSIAN WARSHIP RAISES TENSE QUESTIONS ABOUT FATE OF CREW

Some families report sailors dead or missing in Moskva sinking despite Defense Ministry claim that all were evacuated

By Jeanne Whalen and Mary Ilyushina

April 18, 2022 

The Washington Post

RIGA, Latvia — The sinking of the Russian warship Moskva is causing tension back home, where some families are reporting sailors dead or missing despite a Defense Ministry claim that the whole crew had been evacuated. The flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet sank last week after being hit by two Ukrainian missiles, delivering a significant blow to the Russian naval capacity, U.S. and Ukrainian officials said.  Russia confirmed that the ship sank but said only that it had been damaged by “heavy storms” and a fire that caused ammunition on board to detonate. On April 14, the Russian Defense Ministry said all crew members were evacuated. The authorities have not confirmed any dead or wounded.

But several families are now contradicting this claim in Russian media reports and on social media. Social media groups uniting mothers of Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine are filling up with photos and pleas from parents looking for their missing sons.

On Monday, at least four families shared pictures of sailors who the families say served on the sunken ship and have not been heard from since the incident. “Please join our search for the Moskva sailors!” reads one message on a VKontakte message board. “Family members, please talk to your sons, perhaps someone saw the guys at the time of the evacuation, or you were near on the cruiser itself or you are currently with them in a hospital?”

One mother said her son, who survived, told her that about 40 people died and many were wounded and missing in the sinking. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta Europe published the remarks of the unnamed woman on Sunday, saying it had reviewed documents proving that the son served in the navy, though not specific proof that he had been aboard the Moskva when it sank.  “There are dead, there are wounded, there are missing. My son called me when they were given phones. They left their documents and phones on the ship. He calls me and cries from what he saw. It was scary. It is clear that not everyone survived,” said the mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety.

Russian news outlet Agentstvo said it spoke with a family member who confirmed the death of Vitaly Begersky aboard the Moskva. The Defense Ministry broke the news to the family, his cousin, Anastasia Begerskaya, told the news outlet. Begersky was a conscript from a small town near the Pacific coast of Russia, Agentstvo reported.

The Defense Ministry over the weekend released a video that it said showed crew members from the ship. About 100 or more sailors are visible. It was unclear how many had been aboard the

ship at the time of the incident, but the size of the crew ranged over the years between 500 and 600 people, according to Russian state news agency reports and the Defense Ministry releases.

On Sunday, a user of the social media platform VKontakte said the Moskva commanders told him that his son Yegor, a conscript, was among those missing in the tragedy. Russia earlier “said that the entire crew had been evacuated. It’s a lie! A blatant and cynical lie!” Dmitry Shkrebets wrote. “After my attempts to clarify the details of the incident, the cruiser commander and his deputy stopped communicating with me,” Shkrebets wrote. “I ask everyone who is not afraid and not indifferent, spread this appeal of mine wherever you have the opportunity” so the tragedy is not hushed up.

In a later post, Shkrebets said three families from different parts of Russia contacted him to say their children were also missing from the sunken ship.

Anna Syromyasova, the stepmother of another sailor, said that 20-year-old Nikita had been missing for several days. The Syromyasovs said they have also struggled to get any information about his whereabouts from the military. “Syromyasov Nikita Alexeevich was on the Moskva ship” on the night of April 13 to 14, Syromyasova wrote on her social media page Monday morning. “He is now listed among the missing, the parents are not being told anything, they block our contacts. We have no information!” Nikita’s father told The Washington Post that his son is also a conscript and the family still has not heard anything about his fate. “Silence,” he said. “they are not saying anything.”

In total, at least seven sailors have been identified by name and classified as missing, according to The Post’s tally based on local media reports and accounts of family members. At least three others have been reported dead.

Among those who were reportedly killed was 19-year-old Andrey Tsyvov, whose mother told the Russian BBC News service that he was also a conscript.

The Russian military commissariat “said that it could not be that the conscripts were on that ship: ‘They are probably just deployed somewhere, don’t worry, he is somewhere here local, he cannot be sailing there,’” Yulia Tsyvova is quoted as saying. She later told The Guardian that she received a call from a military official informing her that Andrey was dead.

President Vladimir Putin and the Defense Ministry vowed that conscripts would not be involved in Ukrainian hostilities. But in March, after videos emerged showing conscripts captured by Ukrainian forces, Russian military officials acknowledged that some conscripts had been sent to Ukraine by “mistake.”

The loss of the Moskva provoked a rare note of displeasure with the authorities on state television, with one widely followed anchorman saying he was “furious” over the sinking.  “Just explain to me how you managed to lose it! Explain to me why the hell you happened to be in this very part of the Black Sea at this very time,” Vladimir Solovyov asked during his evening broadcast over the weekend. “Why did your fire-extinguishing system not work and the ship burned practically from the inside out?”

Jeanne Whalen is a reporter covering business around the world. She previously reported for the Wall Street Journal from New York, London and Moscow.  Twitter