Ukraine war: Russians grieve for fallen soldiers

In the Church of Alexandra and Antonina lies a coffin. It is draped with a Russian tricolour. Resting on the casket: a service cap and a photograph.

Mikhail Orchikov was deputy commander of a motor-rifle brigade. He was killed in action in Ukraine. Armed Russian soldiers form a guard of honour.

An Orthodox priest walks around the casket reciting prayers and swinging an ornate metal vessel emitting burning incense. The pungent scent fills the chapel, mixing with the sweet cadences of the church choir. The dead soldier’s widow, head covered in a black scarf, is being comforted by relatives.

How many Russian servicemen have been killed in Ukraine? It is a criminal offence in Russia to report anything other than the official figures.

According to information released by Russia’s Defence Ministry, 498 soldiers have lost their lives in what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation”. Those are the latest figures, from 2 March. There has been no update for two weeks.

“The situation in our country isn’t simple,” the priest tells the congregation. “Everyone understands that.”

The Kremlin wants the public to believe that the Russian soldiers in Ukraine are heroes and that Russia’s offensive there is an act of self-defence.

In a recent edition of state TV’s flagship weekly news show, the anchor claimed that if Russia “hadn’t intervened now, in three years’ time Ukraine would have been in Nato… with a nuclear bomb. [Ukraine] would definitely advance on Crimea, then on southern Russia.” An alternative reality, in which Ukraine is the aggressor.

On the streets of Kostroma, many appear to believe the official Kremlin line.

That’s partly due to the power of television in shaping public opinion. But also, at moments of crisis, many Russians instinctively rally around its leader – as if they don’t want to believe that their president may have made the wrong decision.

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