In the second and final part of her series on issues surrounding the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine, RFE/RL correspondent Francesca Mereu reports that Moscow -- stung by criticism that it reacted to the tragedy too slowly -- is now being questioned over its decision to pay out generous death benefits to the families of "Kursk" victims. Critics say the "Kursk" benefits discriminate against victims of other Russian tragedies, including the war in Chechnya. Still others believe the money and free apartments being offered mean the Russian government is trying to buy the families' silence.
Moscow, 27 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- After the "Kursk" submarine sank last year in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 crew members aboard, the Russian government agreed to pay relatively large death benefits to the families.
Each family got an apartment and 720,000 rubles -- more than $20,000 -- in compensation.
Captain Igor Kurdin, the head of the Saint Petersburg Submariners Club, says he believes it is the first time the Russian government provided adequate compensation for victims of a tragedy.
But he, like many other Russians, questions the fairness of the payments.
Kurdin tells RFE/RL that families of sailors who died in other submarine accidents, for example, did not receive any compensation. He says these families are finding the "Kursk" payments hard to accept.
"It is the first time in our country that the family of someone who died in the line of duty received decent compensation. [But] what is going on now with the families of the 'Kursk' makes other families [feel bad]. As an example, I can cite the families of submariners who [died in accidents] before the 'Kursk:' the 'APL Komsomolets' [that sank in 1988], 'K219' [that sank in 1986], and many others. They didn't receive a penny [from the state]."
The payments to the relatives of "Kursk" victims are especially galling for the families of soldiers killed or wounded in the war in Chechnya. They point out that, while the government does pay out death benefits, the amounts are paltry compared with what relatives of the "Kursk" victims received.
Svetlana Filipova works for the Mothers' Rights Foundation, an organization that assists families of Russian soldiers and sailors who die in the line of duty. She says that, according to the law, the family of a soldier who dies in Chechnya receives a standard, one-time payment of 120 times the serviceman's salary. At current pay levels, this represents a benefit of about $2,500, to be divided among the family.
In addition, she says that each family member receives an individual payment of 25 times the serviceman's salary, or about $600.
Last year, the foundation -- citing the discrepancy with the "Kursk" payments -- accused the state of discriminating against those who lost their relatives in Chechnya. Lyudmila Yefimova from Moscow lost her son in Chechnya. She says that she has asked the state many times for help, but she says officials tell her that she simply wants to use her son's death to get her apartment repaired.
Yefimova says that it is difficult to survive on her monthly pension of around $40. She says the government has forgotten the mothers of the servicemen who are dying in Chechnya.
"The federal government didn't give us [the mothers of those who died in Chechnya] any help. I mean Putin. Furthermore, local authorities are very rude to us."
Captain Kurdin says the issue of compensation is not clear. In his opinion, the issue is not one of discrimination but simply the fact that the Russian government cannot help all of the families of those who die in uniform.
He says that, ironically, the relatively generous "Kursk" compensation packages have not inspired gratitude among the families of the victims, but rather have made them suspicious that the government is trying to hide something. Although the cause of the accident is still not clear, Kurdin says he does not believe the government is trying to buy the families' silence.
"Sometimes you have a feeling that the authorities are trying to buy [the 'Kursk' families to pay for their silence]. But it is easier [for the government] to help only the families of the 'Kursk's' crew than all the families of those who died [in the line of duty]."
The relatives of "Kursk" victims point out that, whatever their amount, death benefits cannot ease the pain of losing a loved one.
Svetlana Baigarina -- the wife of "Kursk" victim Captain Murat Baigarin -- received a three-room apartment in St. Petersburg. But she says that she and her two children still live in her parents' apartment. She says her 11-year-old son Sasha does not want to move to the new flat.
"At the moment, we [myself and my two children] live with my parents. Nobody wants to go [to live] in the apartment [that we received]. It is hard. My young son says, 'I don't want this apartment that we paid for with daddy's death.'"
The Mothers' Rights Foundation says that families of officers killed while serving are often put on a waiting list and have to wait years before getting an apartment.