2011/02/17 "We Need a Different Army!"
  • Press Release No. 07/1343
  • 17/02/2011

A press conference titled, "We Need a Different Army", was held Thursday, February 17, 2011 in the Independent Press Centre, Moscow. The conference was addressed by Veronika Marchenko, chairperson of the Mother's Right Foundation.

In 2010, three lawyers of the Mother's Right Foundation participated in 99 trials (136 court hearings) in 54 Russian cities and towns. During the reporting period, the foundation provided free legal assistance to 4277 (four thousand two hundred and seventy seven) families of dead servicemen. 88% of applications came from parents of drafted servicemen; 12% - from parents of contract servicemen.

Veronika Marchenko agreed with Mr. Fridinsky, Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor, who in an interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta told that "the major part of violence cases were connected to mercenary reasons" (Scan-Interfax), and stated that she shared his concern over hazing increased during 2010.

According to the applications received by the Mother's Right Foundation in 2010, the most deadly military districts were the Western Military District (33% of applications) and the Eastern Military District (26% of applications). The third place was taken by the Central Military District (19% of applications); then went the Southern Military district (18% of applications).  [According to the Decree signed by the RF President, No. 1144, December 1, 2010, the administrative division of military districts underwent some changes.]

Official death versions of 2010: 1) accident (car accident, careless use of weapon, etc.) - 33%; 2) suicide - 28%; decease - 21%; hazing - 7%; death in military service - 4%; no answer - 5%; death in military action - 2%.

Veronika Marchenko announced a gloomy statistics on servicemen's deaths. Danila Pluschevsky was drafted into the army on May 14, 2010. On September 15, 2010, he was shot in the head by lieutenant Gadelshin on the shooting ground. The wound was not serious, and Danila reached the hospital on his own. On September 16, he went into anaphylactic shock and then into coma. On September 27, 2010 he died. Mikhail Potyomkin joined the army in July, 2010. On August 15, 2010, his parents arrived at the unit to see him during the oath ceremony. They were shocked by their son's looks: he had lost weight, and his temperature was over 40 degrees. They tried to call an ambulance but were told that the ambulance would not render service to a serviceman. Their son refused to go to hospital: his fellow servicemen had told him about "the electric chair" - kind of torturing in the unit hospital. He promised his parents that he would go there the next morning. So the parents went back home. On August 17, 2010, they received a phone call: "Your son died from a wasp sting". Naturally after what they had seen, Misha's parents did not believe the official version. They made an attempt to talk to the commander of the unit.  The latter apologized and told them that "he had not recovered from a fit of hard drinking". (Mikhail left his baby fatherless.) Vadim Grechishnikov was drafted into the army on December 2, 2009. He spent six months at the training camp and then joined M.U. 31524, Kirov Region. He served there a little more than a month. On June 28, 2010, his parents were told that he had hanged himself. On arriving at the unit, Vadim made a call - he asked his brother to send him 2500 rubles. Some senior serviceman (he was to be demobilized on June 20) was by his side during the phone call. Vadim's relatives did not send the money. On June 25, the soldier was found on the shooting ground, not far from the forest. The on-the-spot investigator told his parents that he was famished.

At the end of her report, Veronika Marchenko cited a letter received by the Mother's Right Foundation: "Our village boy of 18 died in the army. Today we had his funeral. According to the official version, he hanged himself. But the investigation found numerous wounds on his head and ears. His death resulted from asphyxia. We believe that those who beat the boy hanged him after they had understood that he was dying. In his letters, he wrote about money extortion. Dima's parents are disabled people. The boy had some health problems - bad eyesight and flat feet - but military medical experts wrote that he was fit for military service which is quite puzzling. A military official tried to tell the parents from an expert investigation; he was rude while talking to Dima's grandmother and refused to help the boy's family. No representative from the military commissariat was present at the funeral. Our school teachers are going to apply to the first TV channel and to boycott the coming spring draft..." Veronika Marchenko emphasized that the boycott idea expressed by the people from a Russia's remote village, so humble and resigned as a rule, proved the crucial nature of the situation. People want reforms in the army. "We need a different army," stated Veronika Marchenko.

The next part of her speech was devoted to the foundation's information campaigns. She told that in 2010 the Mother's Right Foundation prepared 30 first-person stories "written" by dead boys telling about their lives in the Odnoklassniki social net; they are accessible to lots of people. "It's important that the boys who perished at the age of 18-20 live in the internet. Their pages are visited by their friends: they write comments, and wish their parents courage and patience. These 30 stories are not the last ones; the work is to be continued,' said Veronika Matchenko.

Then, she told about the foundation's social poster.  The Mother's Right Foundation won the contest, titled "Socially Active Media" (organized by the Charity Aid Foundation). As a result, the foundation received a highly professional design from the BBDO, one of the best agencies in Moscow. Veronika Marchenko expressed gratitude to the Vedomosti Newspaper and the Esquire Magazine that displayed the foundation's poster for free. "The poster shows the problem dealt with by the Mother's Right Foundation for over 20 years. No one can stay indifferent looking at the poster; it makes people feel the tragedy of families of dead servicemen," said the chief of the Mother's Right Foundation. She called the journalists to assist the foundation in displaying its poster and banners in the media.

Veronika Marchenko drew the audience's attention to the fact that the term of the spring draft was increased by 1.5 months. "According to the draft law, Russian citizens will be called up to military service from April 1 to August 31, not to July 15 as now" (RIA News). "In fact, they deprive 18 year old boys of a chance to receive higher education, which is absolutely inadmissible," stated Veronika Marchenko.  She asked the journalists to initiate a public discussion on the issue to disable Duma representatives to pass the law secretly.

In conclusion, Veronika Marchenko announced the foundation's annual event and invited all those present to support parents of dead servicemen on February 23. For the foundation, February 23 is not a holiday. It's the Day of Memory and Grief. The foundation ordered a memorial service for those who perished in the army in the Temple of All Saints.

We are thankful to all the journalists who took part in the conference and Olga Kan who made fine pictures for our press release.