“We share your pain,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has told a group of mothers of Russian soldiers who have been fighting – and some of whom have been killed – in Ukraine.
Eko Hot Blog reports that he said this in his opening remarks, “Nothing can replace the loss of a son.”
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The Kremlin has not commented on reports that the mothers were carefully chosen for the meeting.
Opposition has been growing to Mr Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
Across Russia, groups of mothers of serving soldiers have been openly complaining that their sons are being sent into battle poorly trained and without adequate weapons and clothing, especially as the winter sets in.
Some have also accused the Russian military of turning those forcefully mobilised into “cannon fodder” following a string of heavy military defeats in recent months.
In a rare admission, the Kremlin said in September that mistakes had been made in its drive to mobilise army reservists.
Earlier this month, Mark Milley, the most senior US general, estimates that about 100,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or injured since the war began on 24 February.
At Friday’s meeting at his state residence near Moscow, Mr Putin was shown sitting at a large table with a group of 17 mothers. Some of them wore dark headscarves – a symbol of mourning.
“I want you to know that I personally, and all the leadership of the country, we share this pain,” the president said.
“We’ll be doing everything so you won’t be feeling forgotten,” he added, urging them not to believe “fakes” and “lies” about the raging war showing on TV or the internet.
Soon after Mr Putin launched the full-scale invasion, Russian authorities brought in tough censorship laws against the media, criminalising “dissemination of false information” about its armed forces.
Media outlets face fines or even closure for calling it a war – the Kremlin describes the invasion as a “special military operation”.
That means balanced news can be difficult to get in Russia, leading some people to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the biased state-run media coverage.
On Friday, President Putin also said he had wanted to meet the mothers to hear from them first-hand about the situation on the ground.
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And he revealed that from time to time, he was speaking directly to Russian soldiers on the battlefield, describing them as “heroes.”
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