The mother of a Russian soldier captured in Ukraine says her son never told her he was quitting the army, raising doubt about Kremlin assertions that the soldier was no longer serving when he crossed the frontier.
Zinaida Alexandrova, 58, says she has avoided watching Russian TV since she learnt from a news broadcast that her son was wounded fighting in east Ukraine and taken prisoner.
Russia denies sending troops to help separatist fighters in east Ukraine and says Alexander Alexandrov and his commander, Captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev, had quit their special forces unit to go there on their own.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said they were both ordinary Russian civilians held captive. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the government has not abandoned the two men.
Alexandrov told Reuters in an interview from his bed in a Kiev hospital late last month that he was on active duty with the Russian special forces when he was sent to Ukraine.
“I wrote no resignation request,” he said. “I was carrying out my orders.”
The case, and others like it, have helped cast doubt on President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Russian troops and weapons are being sent to Ukraine. Russia has suggested the men, who are heavily guarded in hospital, may be under pressure from Kiev over what they say.
Speaking publicly about her son’s case for the first time, his mother said he had never told her of any plans to quit the army.
“No, he said nothing,” she said in an interview in her house in the rural village of Rozhki 350 km (215 miles) north of Togliatti, the town on the River Volga where her son served before going to Ukraine.
“Whether or not he quit without informing us, the government must not leave him to fend for himself … I don’t know what they (the authorities) are doing. They don’t tell me anything.”
She added: “I don’t watch television at all after this. I just can’t. Who can you believe?”
Alexandrov was captured on May 16 and has been charged by the Ukrainian authorities with terrorism. The soldiers have denied the charge, and say they did not kill anyone.
Alexandrov, 28, says he believes the Russian authorities pressured his wife Yekaterina, who serves in the human resources department of the same military unit, to tell Russian state television that he had quit before fighting in east Ukraine.
His mother, a slim woman who looks younger than her years, says her daughter-in-law had said nothing to her about Alexandrov quitting: “There was no such talk.”
Reuters was unable to speak to Alexandrov’s wife, who did not answer telephone calls.
Ukraine and NATO countries say hundreds of Russian soldiers have fought on behalf of pro-Moscow separatists in Eastern Ukraine in a war in which 6,400 people have been killed. Moscow says any Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory or captured by Kiev’s forces are either volunteers or crossed the border by accident. Some, it has said, were on holiday.
Zinaida Alexandrova sighed when she listened to the recording of the interview her son gave Reuters, in which he said that it was hurtful to hear from Moscow that he was no longer a serviceman.
Alexandrov’s father Anatoly, a retired major, served in the Soviet aviation border guard and briefly fought in the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan war. He declined to be interviewed.
Alexandrova has not spoken to her son, whose leg was shattered in a gun battle, since he was captured. He says he has tried to call her from different numbers.
“I used to hang up because the numbers were unfamiliar. What if it was the SBU (Ukrainian security service) making threats? I have no contact with anyone. How would I know it was Sasha?” she said, using the diminutive form of her son’s name.
Alexandrova said she wanted Moscow to do more to help her son and his comrade-in-arms, “to get them out of there”.
“I just want my son back soon,” she said.
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