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“A lot of people were injured. Many lost their limbs”

Sailors of the sunken Moskva cruiser get hold of their relatives to tell the real story of what happened on the warship. Novaya Gazeta. Europe publishes one of these stories

Moskva cruiser

On April 14, the Russian Defence Ministry confirmed that the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva cruiser, had sunk. According to the official version of events, ammunition stored on the ship detonated as a result of a fire. The crew was evacuated, and the warship later sank while being towed to Sevastopol. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine claims that the Russian warship was hit with Neptune missiles with a maximum firing range of 280 kilometres, or about 174 miles. According to Sky News, at the time of the attack, Moskva was located 46 km (28 miles) away from Ukraine’s Snake Island. 

The Russian media, including a number of semi-official and pro-government outlets, laments the death of the flagship, staying mum about what happened to the crew. The Russian Defence Ministry first reported that the crew had been “fully evacuated,” then changed it to simply “evacuated,” but said nothing about victims or injuries.

Novaya Gazeta. Europe has spoken with the mother of a Russian conscript who got drafted shortly before the war in Ukraine. We have received documents confirming that her son was indeed drafted and that he served in the Russian Navy, which gives us ground to believe her story. We were unable to confirm, however, that he served on the Moskva warship, as this information cannot be accessed during an ongoing conflict. The conscript’s mother told us that her son had survived and contacted her on April 15, one day after the cruiser had sunk. 

Here, we publish the story told to us by the mother of a conscript who served in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. We do not disclose any names due to safety concerns.

“My son told me that the cruiser had been hit from land, from the Ukrainian side. A fire wouldn’t just start for no reason. People were killed, some were injured, some went missing. My son called me when he got hold of a phone. Their documents and [personal] phones were left on the cruiser. He called me crying because of what he had seen. It was scary. Clearly, not everyone survived. They tried to put out the fire by themselves, after three Neptune missiles had hit the cruiser (Ukraine claims two missiles had struck the warship — editor’s note). As a mother, I don’t even know what to say. I’m just glad that my son has called me, that he is alive and well.

I don’t want to make it public, because then I’ll get my son in trouble (her story is published anonymously with her consent — editor’s note). They signed a non-disclosure agreement before they were sent to the cruiser. You have to understand, I’m frightened. It’s so scary. It’s simply horrifying, and I don’t know how to keep myself together until he comes back. He’s only got *** left to serve [we removed the information about the conscript’s length of service for safety reasons].

About forty people were killed.

Several people are considered missing. And a lot of people were injured. Many of them lost their limbs, because there were a lot of explosions: when the missiles hit and when the ammo exploded.

So when my son called me on the 15th, he was crying. He told me: “Mummy, I never thought that I would end up in such a bloodbath, I thought we lived in a time of relative peace. I won’t even describe to you in detail what I have seen. It’s that scary.”

I don’t know how I’ll survive this, how I’m going to wait for my son to come back, to finish his service. You have to understand. I’m a mother... I’m just... It’s horrible. Of course, there are no details in the media. Why? Because our defence ministry does not want to admit defeat after a Ukrainian attack. It doesn’t want to admit that a cruiser of this level had sunk.”

Earlier, reporters of a RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service investigative project “Schemes” found a post on Russian social network Odnoklassniki about the death of a 41-year-old Russian midshipman Ivan Vakhrushev.

Ivan Vakhrushev

His wife Varvara Vakhrusheva confirmed that the midshipman had been killed on the Moskva cruiser. Varvara was informed of her husband’s death on April 14. Vakhrusheva added that 27 of Moskva crewmen had been declared missing.

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service also found a post published on Russia’s VK social network by Dmitry Shkrebets.

The man stated that his son, conscript Yegor Shkrebets, was declared missing after the sinking of the Moskva cruiser.

“My son, Shkrebets Yegor Dmitriyevich, was drafted for conscription service from the city of Yalta on July 2, 2021. He was stationed in Sevastopol, and after completing a bootcamp, he was sent to the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva missile cruiser. He was a ship’s cook. On the night of April 13, tragedy struck. <...> They said the entire crew were evacuated. That’s a lie! A bold and cynical lie! My son, a conscript, is not on the list of killed or injured officers, he has been declared missing. That’s what the commanders of the Moskva cruiser have told me. A conscript, who should not have taken part in active combat, is considered missing,” the man wrote in the now-deleted VK post. In December 2021, a Baltic Fleet newspaper “Strazh Baltiki” did indeed mention Yegor Shkrebets, a ship’s cook on the Moskva cruiser, who studied to become a chef in Yalta.

Yegor Shkrebets

On April 13, Ukraine stated that it had struck the Moskva missile cruiser with Neptune missiles. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said that the Russian warship had provided cover for Russian troops in the occupied Kherson from the air.

By the morning of April 14, the Russian Defence Ministry confirmed that there had been an explosion on the cruiser, claiming that ammunition stored on the ship detonated “as a result of a fire.” The ministry added that the ship “remains afloat,” and that its crew were evacuated to other Black Sea Fleet vessels in the area.

On the evening of April 14, the Russian Defence Ministry confirmed that the Moskva flagship had sunk. According to the ministry, it happened while the ship was being towed to port during a storm. The ship sunk due to the damage it sustained “as a result of detonated ammunition during the fire.” Russian officials did not specify whether any crewmen had been killed in the incident.

According to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin has no immediate plans to visit Sevastopol or hold a meeting to discuss the sinking of Moskva. “It is the prerogative of the military to determine the causes of what happened with Moskva,” Peskov said.

On Friday, dozens of people gathered in Sevastopol to mourn the sinking of the flagship. A wreath with a ribbon reading “To the ship and to the sailors” was brought to the ceremony, BBC reporters pointed out.

Wreath with a ribbon reading “To the ship and to the sailors”

On April 16, the Russian Defence Ministry published a video showing Moskva crew members meeting the head of the Russian Navy. The footage shows commander of the cruiser Anton Kuprin. Ukrainian media earlier claimed that Kuprin had been killed in the sinking of the Moskva. Besides, Ukrainian border guard officials stated that the Russian military was unable to evacuate the ship’s crew after two Neptune missiles had struck the vessel.

Commander of the Russian Navy Nikolai Yevmenov said that the crew of the Moskva cruiser are back at their base in Sevastopol. He added that the conscripts who served on the ship would be discharged in the period from May to July.

Back in 2017, the Russian Defence Ministry decided against sending conscripts to military vessels, only allowing them to serve in combat service support. The ministry explained that it would be difficult for a conscript “to manage complicated electronic systems,” the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper reported.

The video published by the Russian Defence Ministry shows about 100-150 officers standing in front of the Russian navy chief, including midshipmen and senior officers.

However, the majority of the men seem to be regular sailors, likely conscripts. It is not clear whether the men shown in the video are part of the Moskva crew. According to different reports, the flagship’s crew included from 415 to 510 people. Russian officials did not explain why the remaining crew members were not shown in the video. What is more, a part of the video where commanders of the crew’s units announce the number of officers present and absent, is played without sound.

Главный редактор «Новой газеты. Европа» — Кирилл Мартынов. Пользовательское соглашение. Политика конфиденциальности.
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