Alexey dreamed of becoming a military man and wrote letters to his mother from Ossetia. These letters, the last memory of the missing son, were taken from the Zlobins by the investigators.
– When Alyosha disappeared, I broke off and went to the North Caucasus. Found the part where he served. For several days I walked around and pasted photographs of my son on the posts, asked the locals. But no one saw or knew anything. I was told that he was sent to the forest for firewood and he disappeared, but there was no forest in the vicinity of the checkpoint, and there was no close, – says Natalya Mikhailovna Zlobina, mother of Sergeant Alexei Zlobin, who went missing in the second Chechen war.
Her son’s name is engraved in white on the Black Tulip memorial. Alexei’s parents were opposed at first. Indeed, for this they had to agree that their son was officially recognized as dead. As a result, the court decided that 19-year-old sergeant Zlobin died in the line of military duties. But his mother and father are still waiting for him. Nobody found the body or the remains of their son, so the parents had hope.
More than 200 Russian families have lived with the same hope for many years. Among all regions of Russia, the Sverdlovsk Region set a sad anti-record. For the two Chechen wars there are most of the missing. Until now, 16 people have not been found. A whole platoon of young guys, of whom only photographs and memory remained. Our colleagues at E1.RU tell us how the searches are going, or rather are not going.
“We need to find a son for the war to end for us as well”
Natalia and Vladimir Zlobins from a small Ural village have been waiting for their son’s return for twenty years. Alexei was called up in 1999, after graduating from college. He wanted to be a professional military man. I was preparing to enter a military school, I trained. In the spacious house of the Zlobins, the homemade exercise machines of the eldest son still remain. Parents remember that when they entered their son they asked: “Why do you need a school, do you want to get rid of the army?” Alexei did not understand the question, it seemed to him absurd how one could hide from the army, intending to connect life with it.
He was rejected at the military school, they found some kind of heart problems, but the guy was recognized as fit for urgent service in a hot spot. After training, Alexei, with the rank of sergeant, was sent to a motorized rifle unit in North Ossetia.
Sergeant Zlobin wrote to his parents that he liked serving and that everything was fine with him. Now not a single letter from their son Vladimir and Natalia has survived, they were seized by investigators. Alexei disappeared at the end of November 2000, a year after the beginning of the service. The police came to the parents, they said that the son and a colleague had escaped from the unit, they were put on the wanted list as deserters. They told the circumstances of the disappearance from the words of the commander of the guys. Their company stronghold was located on the border of Chechnya and Ingushetia, near the village of Dattykh. The commander allegedly sent the guys to collect firewood in the forest; they did not return at the appointed time. And a few months later, in February, the decapitated body of a private, a colleague of Alexei, was found in the bed of the Assa River, on the territory of Ingushetia. Only then was the desertion criminal case closed.
Natalya Mikhailovna, Alexei’s mother, having learned that her son was missing, ran out of the house and went to the North Caucasus to look for him. She questioned local residents from the nearest village, hung photographs of her son on poles and walls, and went to hospitals.
“When I arrived at the very outpost where my son disappeared from, none of his colleagues were there, everyone was on business trips,” recalls Natalya Mikhailovna. – But the most important thing is that when I asked about wood and firewood, the contract guys shrugged their shoulders: “What do you mean, no one is sending anyone there for firewood, it is mined there.” And the forest was not visible to the very horizon.
“They had such an excuse,” sighs, joining the conversation, Vladimir Vladimirovich, Aleksey’s dad.
Alexey went to serve together with a classmate, together they got into one unit. For many years, his parents tried to find out from him what happened, where they were finally sent. But he assured that he knew nothing. Vladimir says:
– Alyosha’s classmate lived next door to us in the parental home.
– I say: “Let’s talk about it seriously tomorrow.” But the next day he again assured me that he knew nothing. We immediately told about this lead in the military registration and enlistment office. He was summoned and interrogated. But he never said anything. Maybe he lied to me then, or maybe he knows and does not speak. We then went to their home and persuaded them. His parents drove us out, well, we can’t fight them.
Vladimir and Natalya bring and put on the table a stack of documents for 20 years. These are copies of letters and replies from various authorities: the military prosecutor’s office, the human rights council under the President of Russia, and the public organization General Lebed’s Peacekeeping Mission, which was actively searching for the missing. All these years they received the same answer: so far there is no information about your son. Parents wrote letters to the program “Wait for me”, but the story of the Ural soldier was never broadcast.
Alexey’s parents donated DNA. Twenty years ago, the remains of the dead were taken to Rostov, to the 124th laboratory. It was there that the burnt and disfigured bodies of the dead were brought in refrigerated cars. There forensic experts carried out the identification, identified the dead, compared them with the DNA data that were handed over by their relatives. Most were identified. But Alexei was not among them.
The court found the resident of the Urals dead. The parents agreed to this so that the younger sons would not fall under the call. According to the law, the brothers of the deceased in the performance of military duty have the right to be exempt from military service. Father recalls:
– With Alexei, the question to serve or not to serve was not even raised. Of course, serve! But we just wouldn’t let the younger ones go. Enough.
It cannot be said that the state completely abandoned the parents who lost their son.
– The military unit patronizes us: they send us to sanatoriums or, if necessary, to a hospital for treatment, thanks to them for that, they don’t leave us. But in search – nothing, the state has abandoned us! – says Vladimir. – We ourselves went in search. But these are just trips, we were taken on excursions, to memorials, without an escort and a step it is impossible to step there.
“Our people say that Chechnya won’t let you in (hinders the search). We come to Chechnya, where their bosses say: “Look, get organized.” Whom to believe? Who can I reach? The father of the missing sergeant asks.
“And this is my Yura. I’ve been waiting for him for 21 years “
In a small room of the Sverdlovsk Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, on one of the walls, there is a huge board with portraits. This is a “board of silence”, on it are photographs of the Urals people who have gone missing during the two Chechen wars, which are officially called not wars, but operations.
– To write about today’s problems and achievements in the army, spring and autumn calls, hazing, holiday parades – this, of course, is important and necessary, – says the chairman of the committee of soldiers’ mothers Maria Lebedeva. – But our pain, it is here – on this wall. And no one talks about her. That’s what you need to write about! – Maria Mitrofanovna points to a board with 16 portraits.
Several years ago, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of the Sverdlovsk Region appealed to the Investigative Committee of Russia with a demand to initiate criminal proceedings and begin a search. The letter was written by the activists of the committee, those whose sons in Chechnya disappeared during the war. They received an answer with a refusal, the investigators explained: “It is not possible.”
The committee of soldiers’ mothers now has a rush: the beginning of the spring conscription, the influx of visitors, the recruits, their parents. They complain about problems with the medical board, they ask for help. And we sit on the sidelines and recall 16 tragedies 20 years ago. Lydia Fedorovna Shusharina, an activist of the committee, oversees the problem of the missing and their relatives. Keeps in touch with them, calls, helps to organize treatment in sanatoriums or a hospital for war veterans.
Lydia Fyodorovna shows the personal files of all 16 missing people. She knows the details of the disappearance of each of them, knows their relatives.
– He disappeared in the area of hostilities, was declared missing by a court decision … Mom was looking for. I wrote to all authorities …
– Volodya Dyuldin … The first Chechen one.
– Kubrin Dima. Mom went looking for him in Chechnya. Mom is alive now, very, very weak.
– Volodya Perepelkin. Mom Rimma Petrovna has traveled to Chechnya more than once. She said that she had met with Basayev and Dudaev.
… Lydia Fyodorovna reads to us about every missing person. Stops on the last sheet. It has a name on it: Shusharin Yuri Alekseevich.
– And this is Yura – my son, – she tells us. – I’ve been waiting for him for 21 years.
Yuri Shusharin went missing in the second Chechen war. Officially, those events are called the counter-terrorist operation. On the “Black Tulip” in Yekaterinburg there are more names of those killed during this operation than those whom we lost in the first Chechen war.
Yuri went to Chechnya under a contract after military service. He was strong and healthy, he was engaged in sambo, karate. I wanted to serve, I considered it a real man’s work.
“The first time I tried to leave for Chechnya was when I was a conscript,” Lydia Fyodorovna tells us. – I remember that call from the unit from Yura: “Mom, I’m going to go to Chechnya under a contract.” No, I say, you won’t go.
Yuri was demobilized, got a job in the police, in the non-departmental security. And then I heard on the radio about the recruitment of contract soldiers. I came to my mother with already signed documents, presented with a fact: “I am going to Chechnya.” I told my mother: “There are my guys with whom I served, why are they there, and I am here.” He was then 22 years old. The persuasion to stay did not work.
Later, the mothers will describe the circumstances of his disappearance as follows: on the instructions of the commander, Yuri and his colleagues were sent to shoot a sniper. Yura himself was a sniper, he was accompanied by a colleague, a private conscript. Two days later, the conscript returned alone. He said that he was in captivity, but he was released. And Yuri was killed during the arrest, when he grabbed a grenade, wanted to blow up himself and the militants. Then they did not find any sniper and began to return to their own. But they were ambushed. All this was reported to Lydia Fedorovna in a letter. Yuri’s body was never found.
17 years later, Lydia Fedorovna, together with her son, Yura’s younger brother, found the very same colleague, a witness. He lived in a small village in the Chelyabinsk region. Lydia Fedorovna recalls that trip:
– We came to his house. I didn’t warn him about anything. But he immediately realized in the first second who I was. He asked: “Are you Yura’s mom?” I went into the room and took out the beret. He said that it takes my son, he kept it. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. Perhaps he gave his. He was drunk then during our meeting. He told us everything, apologized. He admitted that his father had not spoken to him all these years. Considers a traitor.
– Why? What is his fault?
“I don’t know… A few months after our meeting, his wife called and said that he had died. From what – I did not begin to find out. Despite the fact that everything seemed to happen in front of a witness, I cannot completely trust a stranger. What was really there? I still hope that Yura is alive.
– My grandson is now 19 years old. And when he asks where his father is, I don’t know what to answer, when his son disappeared, he was four months old, ”Tamara Kagirova, a resident of Grozny, tells us.
Tamara Kagirova is a Chechen activist, chairman of the Chechen public organization Search for the Missing. She created this organization in 2005.
There is another side to the tragedy of the Chechen wars: parents from Chechnya are also looking for their children. Several years ago, in Chechnya, DNA passports were made to all the relatives of the missing. Thanks to this project, several people were identified. So it turned out that the remains of the Chechens were mistakenly buried at the Bogorodsky cemetery in Moscow among the dead Russian soldiers. Before burial twenty years ago, DNA samples were taken from all buried, but unidentified. Thanks to this, the family was left with the hope of finding the lost sons. But Tamara’s son is not among those identified yet.
Tamara Akhmedovna’s son went missing in 2003 in Grozny. He was then 24 years old. Tamara says that their family did not participate in the hostilities, they were against that war, left for Nalchik as refugees, then lived in a temporary stay camp, then returned to Grozny.
He took a job with the local police, and a few days before his disappearance he had to go to work. From 14 to 16 July 2003, a special operation was carried out in the city to clear the city of militants. Tamara says that the secret services allegedly took all the young guys in a row, without really understanding, they were taken away somewhere. In total, 74 people disappeared these days. We cannot say what actually happened in those very difficult years in the republic, but for sure there was cruelty and injustice on both sides. But the mother of the missing Chechen guy is definitely right about one thing.
– Yes, if we assume that my son was detained as a bandit, he broke the law – but then he should be in prison. Where is the verdict, where is the court, where is at least one official paper about what happened to him? According to official data, which have been announced more than once by our official bodies, there are about five thousand missing Chechen residents. I’m sure the real figure is three times more. Where are they?
– But when, even in my case, it comes to concrete actions, to obtain documents, to summon them for interrogation, everything stops. Taboo.
We write, we appeal to all authorities: let us find our children alive or dead. The problem remains, and no one solves it. Our Chechen authorities say that only in Moscow they can solve this. There must be given the go-ahead for a massive search. I know that Russian mothers are also looking for their children. Therefore, it is necessary to create a state interdepartmental commission and jointly search for all those who disappeared in that war: both Chechen guys and Russian.
– Your local Chechen residents will not mind if they begin to raise graves on a massive scale?
– Will not. Everyone will understand, we have the right to know.
A seven-year-old missing soldier tending sheep in the mountains
– No, it’s not true that everyone has forgotten about the missing and no one is involved. They are looking for, – the chairman of the public organization “General Lebed Peacekeeping Mission” Alexander Mukomolov assured us.
Alexander Mukomolov, member of the Human Rights Council under the President of Russia. For more than twenty years he has been searching for the missing in the Chechen wars. Initially, the organization was created in the North Caucasus in 1998 to free prisoners captured by gangs of militants and to search for missing persons. Over the years, the peacekeeping mission has managed to find and reburial 18 remains of the bodies of Russian citizens, and also free 203 people. Of these, 168 are military: from colonels to privates.
In the late 1990s – early 2000s, Alexander and his mission worked in conjunction with the Russian military and special services. They released not only the military, but also civilians of Chechnya and other North Caucasian republics: Russians and Chechens, Ossetians and Ingush, women, men, children. The bandits, taking advantage of the time of troubles, kidnapped both soldiers and ordinary citizens. They sold them as slaves to mountain villages, demanded a ransom.
“And now we are looking for the dead,” says Alexander Mukomolov. – We are supported by the Human Rights Council. We interact with the Ministry of Defense, with the 111th center in Rostov (formerly the famous 124th laboratory). The Ministry of Defense has a department for perpetuating the memory of the dead and missing. We have signed a cooperation agreement with them. We have an agreement with the Ministry of Health, and we are doing research at the Russian forensic medical center. And, of course, they help us locally, in the Chechen Republic. It is impossible to search without local residents. We find understanding both with the local Ministry of Internal Affairs and with the investigation department. The clergy, I do not speak for everything, but the current muftis support the search.
– Is it a myth that the Chechen authorities are opposing large-scale searches?
– Neither the locals nor the authorities are against it. Here’s the thing. Local authorities have a limit to their search scale. For example, a burial in Goiskiy (a village in the Urus-Martanovskiy district). Imagine if now to raise 600 remains: there are both soldiers and militants.
What should they do with these bodies? And there are more than a hundred such burials in Chechnya. It turns out that the only obstacle is that some high-ranking officials cannot find a mechanism for how to carry out large-scale searches. Therefore, now it is realistic to work only with small burials. We must raise them.
– How many people work in your search group?
– Four people. These are all local residents, Chechens. One, for example, had a brother-policeman missing, he became our search engine. I found the remains of my brother and three of his comrades. He has metal detectors, radars, knows technical issues. Attracts people from villages. And he cooperates with the search group of the military of the Ministry of Defense, they periodically come to Chechnya. Last year, we identified the names of seven, including one soldier. This year, the names of the two missing were identified. At the Bogorodskoye cemetery, ten Chechens were found who were buried as unknown soldiers. Relatives took the Chechens to their homeland.
– Were the militants buried at the military cemetery?
– Yes, they fought. But many now, after so many years, can hardly be called militants, terrorists. Many very young people, caught in the meat grinder, in the alteration on the other side. And then, 20 years ago, the remains (sometimes fragments of bodies) were sent to Bogorodskoye from Rostov, who looked like a soldier in age, in clothes: a tank helmet, a uniform. Before burial, they took samples of tissue and DNA from everyone. So far there is a reasonable search algorithm. Our task is to raise graves, do genetic research, create a database of relatives. Now we have in our database 1,500 profiles (genetic samples) of relatives, 4,000 profiles: Chechens, Russians, Ossetians, Dagestanis. About 200 missing persons are Russian soldiers. But you can only search together, then the locals will help you in your search.
– Alexander Fedorovich, many of the relatives may not wait for a “reasonable” but long “search algorithm”. The victims of the Great Patriotic War are being searched for on a large scale. There is a whole movement of volunteer search engines.
– In the case of World War II, the law allows volunteers to search, this is already history. From the Chechen point of view, this is impossible from the point of view of the law, here deaths are associated with the commission of more recent crimes, with terrorist activities. There is a whole procedure here, the exhumation is carried out by law enforcement agencies. For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the search for the dead is carried out on a large scale. A whole structure for searches has been created, its work is paid for by seven large European countries. For work there is all the necessary modern equipment, warehouses, refrigerators, laboratories. Such works are being carried out all over the world. Exploration is booming everywhere. Science allows you to do this. In order to advance the search in our country, a state unit should be created, which would include the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and a staff of forensic specialists. And to work, to search methodically, every day.
“Twenty years ago, you saved the living. Is there any hope now that someone is still alive?
– A person can be considered dead only after confirmation. We receive confirmation – inform the relatives. Also not the most pleasant procedure. When we report, it happens that people lose consciousness. So many years have passed, but people still lived in the hope that their children were alive. And now there is no more hope.
– Then, many years later, there were former Soviet soldiers. On the one hand, for so many years they would have gotten in touch. On the other hand, people may have amnesia due to contusion. And that someone is still kept in slavery in remote auls is unlikely.
For example, we rescued such a prisoner many years ago, in 1999. His name is Vladimir. He was kidnapped by bandits from the unit: he was drunk, poisoned with clonidine and sold. He spent seven years in captivity in Chechnya, grazing sheep in the mountains. He was guarded by a teenager with a submachine gun. I didn’t try to run, there were mountains around. We found out about him. They freed him with the help of several armed men. Now he is doing well, he lives near Ulan-Ude, fishes on Lake Baikal, we called him several years ago.
– Who were these people who rescued him?
– Good people. These were local Chechens, one might say ours. Opponents of all this (slavery), who support the federal line, realizing that the republic will perish from anarchy and banditry. Now many of these people who helped us in those situations are in power. The more we help each other now in search, the better the relationship will be. There is no other way.