The family of a Russian soldier declared dead in Syria is looking for answers. As the soldier was laid to rest in a village graveyard on Wednesday, the soldier’s father says that there were no physical signs on the body to support claims that the soldier had hung himself.
According to Russian Defense officials, 19-year-old Vadim Kostenko hung himself at a base on the Syrian coast on Saturday due to problems in his personal life. His body was given over to his family on Tuesday. Kostenko is the first confirmed military fatality in Russia’s four-week-old bombing campaign in Syria.
The air force technician’s death is the latest event to arouse suspicion surrounding the Russian military. Kremlin critics have previously accused the authorities of hiding the truth about military casualties, especially in the latest clash with the Ukraine, an event that Moscow denies forces have fought in despite overwhelming evidence.
Kostenko‘s parents say that the last time they spoke with their son was on the day he supposedly hung himself, and he sounded cheerful on the phone, leading them to doubt that he killed himself.
On Wednesday, four soldiers carried Kostenko’s body from his parents house to a small van for the funeral. Neighbors claimed that though the village priest visited the house, he did not bear a blessing since suicide is considered a sin. Kostenko’s mother was clearly distraught, clad in a black head scarf, referring to her son as “little one” and stroking his face on the ride over the the graveyard.
The coffin was taken to the village cemetery. The lid was opened before the burial, revealing a body clad in a blue air force uniform. The collar concealed Kostenko’s neck, but there was visible bruising around his nose. Soldiers fired three shots into the air before the coffin was closed and the body was buried.
The Novaya Gazeta newspaper published a quote from an unidentified uncle of Kostenko, who claimed that the body had wounds that were inconsistent with a hanging.
“He had a broken jaw and the back of his head was bashed in. And his neck was broken,” the uncle stated. He also claimed that his nephew’s nose had been broken.
Russia’s main military prosecutor said that it was still looking into Kostenko’s death on Wednesday. The initial findings were that Kostenko hung himself, with the official cause of death being asphyxiation.
Kostenko’s father played down initial reports that he wanted a second autopsy, instead claiming that the family would wait for the results of the official autopsy before making a decision on how to proceed.
An anonymous military official commented on Kostenko’s death, stating that his body was found by fellow soldiers at the base in Syria, and it was clear that he had ended his own life. Another anonymous source stated that conditions at the base were comfortable.