AP

Sailors’ families seek answers about Russian ship sinking

Apr 22, 2022, 8:58 PM
FILE - In this photo  provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian missile cruis...
FILE - In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian missile cruiser Moskva is on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea near the Syrian coast on Dec. 17, 2015. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)

LVIV, URKAINE — It took the Russian military over a week to acknowledge that one serviceman died and two dozen others were missing after one of its flagship cruisers sank in the Black Sea, reportedly the result of a Ukrainian missiles strike.

The acknowledgment happened after families started searching desperately for their sons who, they said, served on the ship and did not come home, and relatives are posing sharp questions about Russia’s initial statement that the entire crew was evacuated.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday in a terse announcement that one crew member died and 27 were left missing after a fire damaged the flagship Moskva cruiser last week, while 396 others were evacuated. The ministry did not offer any explanation for its earlier claims that the full crew got off the vessel before it sank.

The loss of the Moskva, one of three missile cruisers of its kind in Russia’s fleet, was shrouded in mystery from the moment it was first reported early on April 14. Ukraine said it hit the ship with missiles. The Russian Defense Ministry would not acknowledge an attack, saying only that a fire broke out on the vessel after ammunition detonated, causing serious damage.

Moscow even insisted that the ship remained afloat and was being towed to a port, only to admit hours later that it sank after all — in a storm. No images of the ship, or of the supposed rescue operation, were made available.

Only several days later, the Russian military released a short and mostly silent video showing rows of sailors, supposedly from the Moskva, reporting to their command in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The footage offered little clarity on how many sailors were actually evacuated to safety.

Soon came the questions. An emotional social media post by Dmitry Shkrebets alleging that his son, a conscript who served as a cook on Moskva, was missing, quickly went viral.

The military “said the entire crew was evacuated. It’s a lie! A blatant and cynical lie!” Shkrebets, a resident of Crimea, wrote on VK, a popular Russian social media platform, on April 17, three days after the ship went down.

“My son, a conscript, as the very commanders of the Moskva cruiser told me, is not listed among the wounded and the dead and is added to the list of those missing … Guys, missing in the open sea?!”

Similar posts quickly followed from other parts of Russia. The Associated Press found social media posts looking for at least 13 other young men who reportedly served on the Moskva whose families could not find them.

One woman spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, as she feared for her son’s safety. She said her son was a conscript and had been aboard the Moskva for several months before telling her in early February that the ship was about to depart for drills. She lost touch with him for several weeks after that.

The news about Russia invading Ukraine worried her, she said, and she started reading the news online and on social media every day. The last time they spoke on the phone was in mid-March. He was on the ship but did not say where it was.

She didn’t start looking for him until a day after she learned about trouble aboard the Moskva, because official statements from the Defense Ministry said the crew was evacuated. But no one called or messaged her about her son’s whereabouts, and she started to get agitated.

Calls to various military officials and hotlines got her nowhere at first, but she persisted. A call she made on the way to a grocery store brought bleak news — that her son was listed as missing and that there was little chance he survived in the cold water.

“I said ‘But you said you rescued everyone,’ and he said ‘I only have the lists’. I screamed ‘What are you doing?!’” she told the AP. “I got hysterical, right at the bus stop (where I was standing), I felt like the ground was giving way under my feet. I started shaking.”

The Kremlin statements about the ship’s loss and the crew’s fate follow a historical pattern in which Russia has often met bad news with silence, denials or undercounts about casualties. Previous examples include the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the sinking of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea in 2000 and the 1994-1996 Chechen war.

The families’ accounts could not be independently verified. But they went largely uncontested by Russian authorities.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment and redirected the question to the Defense Ministry when asked by the AP during one of his daily conference calls with reporters about families challenging the official statements about sailors being evacuated.

The Defense Ministry did not comment on the outcry either — until Friday, when it finally revealed that 27 crew members were missing and one was confirmed dead. The ministry still did not acknowledge an attack on the ship, however.

Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov says the sinking of the Moskva is a major political blow for President Vladimir Putin, not so much because of the outcry from families, but because it hurts Putin’s image of military might.

“This trait, might, is under attack now because we’re now talking about the devastation of the fleet,” Gallyamov said. But the families’ woes underscores “that one shouldn’t trust the Russian authorities.”

In the meantime, some families with missing sons plan to continue seeking the truth.

“Now we will turn to figuring out for how long one can ‘go missing’ in the open sea,” Shkrebets posted Friday.

AP

FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., responds to reporters at the Capitol in Wash...
The Associated Press

McCarthy, Trump have ‘positive’ call despite Jan. 6 audio

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy had a positive phone call with then President Donald Trump.
5 months ago
President Joe Biden walks to board Air Force One, Thursday, April 21, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Ba...
The Associated Press

Biden announces heavy artillery, other weapons for Ukraine

President Joe Biden announced another $1,3 billion in military aide for Ukraine.
5 months ago
Ukrainian soldiers walk on a destroyed bridge in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, Apr...
The Associated Press

‘Days or hours left’: Russia tightens the noose in Mariupol

Russian forces tighten their grip in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
6 months ago
A wind-driven wildfire burns at the edge of U.S. 89 on the outskirts of Flagstaff, Ariz., on Tuesda...
The Associated Press

Southwest wildfires force evacuations, tighten resources

An Arizona wildfire more than tripled in size on Wednesday as winds pushed flames through a neighborhood near Flagstaff.
6 months ago
A Ukrainian soldier inspects a Russian tank after recent battles at the village of Moshchun close t...
The Associated Press

Russia pours in more troops and presses attack in the east

Russia poured additional troops into the eastern half of Ukraine in a potential battle for that part of the country.
6 months ago
Russian military vehicles move on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forc...
The Associated Press

Zelenskyy: Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has begun

Russia began its full-scale ground offensive to take control of eastern Ukraine on Monday.
6 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Prescription opioid...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
...

Tax Tuesday: Key Information Before the Filing Deadline

Businesses can receive a credit of up to $5,000 per employee in 2020 and up to $21,000 per employee in 2021.
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Sailors’ families seek answers about Russian ship sinking