2013/03/27 "The Officer’s Wife"
  • Press Release No. 18/1541
  • 27/03/2013

On March 27th the Leninsky District Court in Yekaterinburg supported the Mother’s Right Foundation’s claim on behalf of Olga Vasilievna Chepak (b. 1970) and Larisa Grigorievna Chepak (b. 1992), widow and daughter of a deceased veteran Vadim Grigorievich Chepak (b. 1968). Unfortunately, the Judge presiding over the claim, Natalia Shabaldina, cited the calculations of the Military Commissariat of the Sverdlovsk Region:  which decided that the plaintiffs would receive only 58,000 rubles. We are not satisfied with this decision and will submit an appeal.

The Mother’s Right Foundation provides support on behalf of deceased veterans: where under the law, parents, widows and children of servicemen who took part in combat operations have the right to a modest increase (by 32%) in their survivor’s pensions. The increase is modest but because of the appalling position of Russia’s military departments (Ministry of Defense, MIA, etc.) the arrears grow with years and become indebted for large sums of money. This is how the Russian Federation tries to save money at the expense of deceased servicemen. The Mother’s Right Foundation has successfully supported individual claims in such cases. Numerous successful trials have proven that our position is fair and just. Nevertheless, servicemen’s families keep on receiving letters of denial. Time and again, our lawyers have to go to different cities and towns to win increased pensions in court. Deceased veterans could hardly imagine their family members’ struggle against our heartless officials. Angered and exhausted, mothers and widows contact the foundation to protect their interests and support their claims in court.

Currently, we lack funding, but the continued support and donations from those who value our work make our survival possible. At times people ask us, “What gives you strength to help these families?” The answer we provide is simple: “we are educated about their lives, we understand their struggle and we are following their example.”

Olga’s explained how she married for love. She lived with Vadim in a small room but considered it paradise. Raised in a military family, she was accustomed to the lifestyle it created and problems of that kind didn’t bother her.  In 1992 she gave birth to their daughter Larisa, and Vadim brought a school desk for the child to sleep on. Olga used soldier underwear to sew Larisa’s little jackets. She took it in stride, mostly because others lived that way. Secondly, she believed that such difficulties would come to an end: Vadim’s service was a success.

But then Russia started a war with Chechnya.

At the same time when Vadim went off to Chechnya, Olga served as a signal officer in the military unit. She could see her husband during working hours which she considered to be lucky. Others were not so fortunate. Then, their communication was cut off.

She was home when somebody came to her and said, “Rush to the unit: there’s communication with Chechnya!” Olga hurried to the unit and was connected to the Deputy Commander. Olga Vasilievna does not remember exactly what she heard at the moment, something like, “Your husband is missing. Perhaps he was taken captive or killed…” She quickly understood that nobody had seen his body and that no one would search for it.

Olga went to the kindergarten where her daughter was and explained to the teachers that she had to search for her husband. She asked them to take care of her child, and they agreed. She was quite fortunate.

She arrived in Rostov: mothers and widows from all over Russia went there in their search for missing loved ones. They did not cry and showed no self pity. They struggled to achieve their goal of finding a relative or a body, even some useful information as to their whereabouts. Many of them were fired from work; others were abandoned by their relatives. (Do you remember how you lived in 1995 and1996?) They courageously continued their search. From time to time, they arrived in Moscow and came to our office. We would draw up letters, petitions and file appeals. Most of all we demanded that the state take responsibility for its actions. Anna Politkovskaya wrote about such cases, and Antimilitary Committee activists stood with pickets on Pushkin Square. Then, they would renew their search. 

In Rostov, somebody advised Olga to go to Dagestan. Vadim’s stepfather went to Khankala. During their search, they discovered that militants freed people for a ransom: usually a tank or some other vehicle. Olga, out of desperation, was willing to give anything in order to find Vadim. Shortly after, Vadim’s stepfather showed her a video of Vadim Chepak’s crew. It showed Chechen militants attacking their IFV (the guys had written ‘Ksyusha’ on it). They killed all the soldiers and officers, there were no survivors. The victims were easily recognizable, and Olga witnessed how her husband was killed (on August 10, 1996). Now as Chepak’s widow she started her search for his body.

During the following months, Olga alternated her work in the military unit with her search. She went to Rostov where she looked through refrigerator carriages which stored the bodies of fallen servicemen. Relatives of the deceased were allowed to search through these bodies, certainly a terrible sight.

The search process was simple enough: first, one had to apply to the 124th forensic laboratory to look through lists of the deceased. Then the date of death (if known) which corresponded to the numbers of refrigerator carriages would provide for a more precise search. Olga Vasilievna was accompanied by two servicemen. She told us, “They separated frozen bodies from each other. They tried to do it quickly to keep them cold so that others could see them later”.

Her search was unsuccessful.

Vladimir Linenko, working for the 124th forensic laboratory, explained to Olga how to identify a person by simply using a small bone. When mothers and relatives arrived in Rostov, they were sent to Olga. By that time she was experienced with the search process and could provide a helping hand.

In March 1997, Olga Vasilievna found her husband’s body in a refrigerator carriage near Rostov. According to official documents, Vadim Chepak died from injuries received in action: “explosion and numerous injuries to the head, chest and belly.”

 She was fired from her job in the process.

For years, Olga Vasilievna worked as Deputy President of the Sverdlovsk Disabled Veterans Association. She was in charge of deceased veterans’ children: she took them to the sea, arranged excursions, etc.

On March 28th she was hospitalized.

The day before, she attended the hearing held in the Leninsky District Court in Yekaterinburg. She appeared with Larisa, her grown up daughter who had been raised without a father. Olga Vasilievna said to her daughter, “You should understand what’s going on”.

 By the way, she is lucky to have such a daughter!