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'We Are Waiting For You': Nearly Five Months After Deadly Strike, Dozens Of Russian Families Search For Missing Soldiers

Workers clear the site following an attack by Ukrainian forces on a barracks where the Russian soldiers were stationed in Makiyivka, Donetsk region, on January 3.
Workers clear the site following an attack by Ukrainian forces on a barracks where the Russian soldiers were stationed in Makiyivka, Donetsk region, on January 3.

"Looking for my brother," reads a social-media post published on March 26. "Mozharov, Stanislav Vitalyevich, 10.10.77 D.O.B., Mobilized. Last contact was December 31, 2022. Forty-Fourth regiment. Was in Makiyivka during the strike. Come back, brother! We are all waiting for you. Please help a mother get her son back. Maybe someone has seen him? Please, help us."

Just after midnight on New Year's Day, a Ukrainian rocket strike hit a trade-school dormitory in the Donetsk region city of Makiyivka where Russian troops, mainly mobilized soldiers from the mid-Volga Samara region, were quartered. Scores of soldiers were killed in what was one of the most lethal strikes Ukraine has inflicted on the invading Russian forces.

Nearly five months later, the Russian military remains tight-lipped about what happened that night and how many soldiers were killed or wounded. Moscow only acknowledged the incident two days afterward, initially reporting 63 soldiers killed. On January 4, that figure was raised to 89, although the names were not released. At the same time, the Ukrainian military claimed up to 400 soldiers had been killed and another 300 wounded.

An open-source investigation by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities earlier this month identified by name at least 140 soldiers who were killed in the Makiyivka strike, based on death and funeral announcements on social media and local government information resources.

A follow-up investigation has now identified by name 21 additional soldiers who relatives believe were in Makiyivka that night and who haven't been heard from since. Idel.Realities studied chat groups and other social media forums to identify the missing soldiers, all of whom were from the Samara region.

No Information

In another social media post, someone else was also seeking information about Stanislav Mozharov.

"At the time of the tragedy, he was in the trade-school building," the post reads. "Where he might be since then is unknown. We have asked everywhere, but always get the same answer: 'We have no information.' Our only hope is that someone has seen or heard something."

The motif of "no information" runs through many of the posts studied by RFE/RL.

"We have submitted all possible requests -- no information," reads a post seeking the whereabouts of 24-year-old mobilized soldier Aleksandr Kulikov. "His fellow soldiers have told us he might be in a hospital."

A post seeking information about soldier Dmitry Petrov from Tolyatti reads: "Soldiers carried him out on a metal door. He was conscious. They handed him over to an ambulance. No further information."

Idel.Realities was able to locate contact information for the relatives of some of the soldiers it identified as missing, but none of them agreed to be interviewed for this investigation. One woman whose brother has was killed at Makiyivka agreed to speak with RFE/RL, on condition of anonymity, and said families had been urged not to speak out.

"We were also told not to publish obituaries," the woman said. "But I told them we didn't sign anything, and we aren't in the military. I don't have anything to do with them. They took away our only male relative…. I'm not afraid of anything."

She said her father traveled to Makiyivka in mid-January to search for his son.

"He said it was just hell there," the woman recalled, adding that military officers there told him that 370 soldiers were killed that night, rather than the Russian government's figure of 89.

RFE/RL identified one soldier, Nikolai Lednyov of Samara, whose relatives think he might have been in Makiyivka and who has not been heard from since he was sent to Ukraine shortly after December 24. Because it is not clear whether he was at Makiyivka, RFE/RL did not add him to its list of missing victims of that rocket attack.

"Maybe in 10 years we will learn the truth," said the woman whose brother was killed in Makiyivka. "I am sure that your list does not include everyone. The number of killed is definitely higher. There are many families -- I personally know five or six -- who haven't posted any notices because they are in such grief."

Adapted by RFE/RL's Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities

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