Russian mothers 'receive official letters' telling them their sons have died in Ukraine
ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery hears from one Russian mother who says 'this is not my war'
Russia's war with Ukraine is not yet a week old and Russian mothers are already demanding answers from the country's Ministry of Defence about the whereabouts of their sons who have allegedly been sent to fight in Ukraine.
Almost as soon as the invasion began on February 24, videos started appearing on social media showing Russian soldiers allegedly captured by Ukrainian forces. In one video, a soldier who appears to be Russian is heard to say: "Mum and Dad I didn't want to come here. They made me."
Another is asked apparently by a Ukrainian if he will switch sides. "Are you ready to fight with us?" a man says. "I'm ready," the soldier is heard to reply.
On Tuesday, Ukraine claimed it has "eliminated" around 5,710 Russian military personnel and says 200 are captive. In a military update provided to ITV News, Ukraine claims "cases of abandonment of posts and voluntary captivity by entire units have been reported."
On Sunday, Russia admitted for the first time that it had sustained losses in its campaign against Ukraine but the spokesperson for the country's Ministry of Defence, Igor Konashenkov, did not provide numbers of casualties or additional details.
Natalia Deineka says she learned from her sister that her 19-year-old son, a private in the Russian army, had been captured in Ukraine. She believes he was captured on the first day of Russia's invasion. ITV News could not independently confirm her account.
She says her sister showed her photos of captured Russian soldiers posted on the Facebook page of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and claims her son, Rafik Rakhmankulov, is pictured in a photo that was posted on the February 24.
Deineka says the last time she spoke to her son was on February 23 - the day before Vladimir Putin announced his invasion of Ukraine. Russian state media organisations have questioned the truth of the photos and Deineka's story and have accused her of lying.
The Facebook post on the page of the Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief, claims Rakhmankulov, and another soldier pictured alongside him, are from military unit 91701 of the Yampolsk motorized regiment in Russia.
Natalia Deineka says her son served with that regiment.
Since she learned of her son's capture, Deineka says she has been trying to get answers from Russia's Ministry of Defence.
Deineka says she went to speak to military officials and told them: "I am the mother of a captured soldier. I need contact with counterintelligence, or with someone who can give me information about where he is."
Officials, she said, told her they could give her no information and, she said, "gave me the address of the Red Cross."
ITV News has asked Russia's Ministry of Defence to confirm whether Rafik Rakhmankulov was sent to Ukraine and if he has been captured there.
The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, an organisation that helps military families, says they have been inundated with calls from parents concerned about their children since Russia launched its offensive against Ukraine on February 24.
Alexander Latynin, a lawyer with the Committee, told ITV News that on Monday seven people from the organisation took more than 2,000 calls from worried parents.
"What happened to my child, is he alive? Is he captured? Where is he? Is he in Russia near the border with Ukraine or is he in Ukraine? These are the most important questions which worry parents," Latynin said.
The volume of calls is so great, Latynin said, that the organisation has asked Russia to "organise a hotline so that the Ministry of Defence can give answers to the mothers of soldiers about what is happening to their children."
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Parents, Latynin says, are already being informed about the death of their sons in Ukraine. Just three days after President Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine, Latynin says it was "already clear" that some parents "were getting official death letters from (military) recruiting centres."
Russia's Ministry of Defence has admitted losses in Ukraine but has said the numbers are far less than the Ukrainian side. ITV News has asked the Ministry of Defence if it is true families are receiving letters informing them their relatives are dead.
Almost a week after the invasion began, Russia has failed to capture any major Ukrainian cities. Professor Maria Popova, Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, told ITV News she thought the fact that Russia has made little gains in its military campaign in Ukraine may have "spooked" the circle around Vladimir Putin.
"It is clear things have gotten out of hand, in terms of the resistance they are seeing in Ukraine," she said. "You also have to remember that Russian society, overall, did not demand this war in any way. Polls say only 10% of Russians support the war in Ukraine."
According to the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, the war is having an impact on Russia's armed forces to recruit new soldiers as people do not want to join.
"They are afraid," Latynin told ITV News. "They do not want to be recruited and they do not want to be sent to the conflict which is happening now."
Daineko says the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers is helping her to try to find her son. In the meantime, she says all she can think about is bringing him home.
"I am like a stone. I don't cry, I don't sleep, I don't eat. I will cry when I hug my son," she said. "They asked us to call it a 'special operation' in Ukraine. I don't need it, my son doesn't need it, nobody in Russia needs it. This is not my war."