Russians fight red tape to find Chechen war MIAs
A Russian military lab works to identify bodies from the war with Chechnya
Hundreds of soldiers unaccounted for long after war's end
February 19, 1998
Web posted at: 3:10 p.m. EST (2010 GMT)
In this story:
From Correspondent Betsy Aaron
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (CNN) -- Raisa and Vladimir Denisenko
want to bury their son, a Russian soldier, but there are no remains to claim. Russia's war in Chechnya is long over, but
not for the Denisenkos and many like them, including parents
who hold out hope their sons are still alive.
An estimated 1,300 Russians are still missing from the
1994-96 war against Chechen independence, and it's possible
as many as 10 percent of them remain prisoners of the
Even when a death is confirmed, parents may be left
wondering where their sons' remains are located.
In a nondescript building in the southern Russia city of
Rostov-on-Don, there is a military laboratory where the
painstaking work of identifying bodies and parts of bodies is
In some cases, identification is made through pictures of
corpses. (Note: Some viewers may find this image disturbing.)
Russian soldiers still missing from the war
But, for now, the Denisenkos have no body to claim and blame
the Russian bureaucracy.
"There is no way to find the truth," Vladimir told CNN.
"You go to a local draft center, they send you to some other
unit. You go there, they send you further on. There are no
benefits, no respect, nothing."
The Denisenkos are far from alone in their frustration -- or
Stories told by other parents are achingly similar. "He was
so kind," says one mother about her missing boy. "He liked
sports. He didn't have a girlfriend yet." In every case the
missing loved ones are called boys, never men.
A suggestion that a mass burial be held for all unidentified
remains brought immediate opposition from the Soldier's
Mothers Committee -- Russian women whose sons went to war in
Chechnya. Some of the sons came home, some didn't.
"How dare you bury the hope of hundreds of people, their last
and only hope to find their boy's body?" asks committee
member Valentina Melnikova. "Nobody has that right. Every
family has the right to bury their son the way they want
The mothers and their organized group -- representing
families who have no means or ability to fight the Russian
red tape -- are a constant thorn in the side of the country's
Natalya Pankova says her son, Sasha, told her he enlisted
because it was his duty. "And now, nobody has any idea where
he is. Isn't it scary?"
In Pankova's case, though, the Soldier's Mothers Committee is
able to cut through the red tape. It has determined that
Sasha is alive in Chechnya, information that supposedly is
"classified," the group says.
Still, parents who find out that their sons are alive in
Chechnya are asked to pay a ransom to whomever is holding
them. The sum may range anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000
(U.S.), an impossible amount for most Russians.
For these parents seeking a son, wives who long for their
husbands and children without a father, it's as if time
stopped. Until they get their missing men back, or know for
certain they are not coming back, life cannot begin again.