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Hundreds Of Russian Soldiers Hospitalized In Siberia

YURGA, Russia -- The Military Prosecutor's Office in the south-central Russian region of Kemerovo has launched an investigation after some 250 soldiers were hospitalized, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The South Siberian Center for Human Rights said the soldiers were sent to the hospital in the past several days, most of them diagnosed with acute respiratory infections.

Ramila Veits, the chairwoman of the Kemerovo branch of the nongovernmental organization Soldiers' Mothers, told RFE/RL that one soldier was in critical condition after suffering kidney failure.

She said the soldiers may have become sick because of their new military uniforms, which were designed by prominent Russian fashion designer Vadim Yudashkin. Veits said the uniforms weren't suited for the extreme cold in Siberia -- the temperature is currently about 30 degrees below zero Celsius in some parts of Kemerovo.

Meanwhile, officials at the Central Military Region's headquarters say the new military uniform is not to blame for the mass hospitalization. They said the newly designed military uniform had a special synthetic filler -- instead of cotton -- and a hood that did not previously exist.

Yury Sivokhin, the assistant commander of the 41st Army Unit to which the soldiers belong, told journalists the number of hospitalized soldiers corresponds to the number expected to be sick during the winter.

Sivokhin said neither Yudashkin nor his uniforms are responsible for the situation, adding that the problem was because "our boys are much weaker" than they used to be.

The Military Prosecutor's Office said it was checking if the sick soldiers were exposed to severe cold weather for a long period of time.

Read more in Russian here