Mothers and Sons : When Thousads of Recruits Came Home in Sealed Coffins, the Russian Army Blamed ‘Accidents.’ But the Mothers Call It Murder.

<i> Kathleen Hunt is a Moscow correspondent for National Public Radio. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine</i>

IN A CRAMPED AUTOPSY ROOM IN MOSCOW, with bulky, antiquated equipment, a scruffy workman with a hammer and chisel tears open a soldered zinc box to reveal a slender coffin covered with thin red cotton. With the stench of putrefying flesh rushing in each time the door to the morgue flies open, the workman and a helper raise the coffin lid. The bruised and strangled body of a tall, 19-year-old sailor from the Vladivostok fleet lies crammed into the box.

Half a dozen men in white jackets--forensic specialists from the Moscow Medical Academy and the Russian Military Prosecutor’s office across the road--circle the youth’s body, examining the thick, red scar left around his crushed neck when he died on Feb. 27. Among them is a feisty matron with a wild crop of silver hair who prods the irritable military examiner to look more closely at the signs of suspected bruises and cigarette burns on his arms and legs and scribbles the proceedings on a note pad.

The scene is all too familiar to 60-year-old Elizaveta N. Nekrasova, who is here on behalf of a growing movement of mothers, across the former Soviet Union, fighting to end the wanton brutality being inflicted upon conscripts in the military. Her mission is to ensure that this official autopsy is conducted thoroughly and honestly. For tens of thousands of families, a nightmare began this way, when a son’s body was returned home from the army in a sealed zinc box, along with nothing more than a perfunctory death certificate indicating “suicide,” “accident” or “died of unknown causes.” Only in the past four years have mothers like Nekrasova forced the authorities to open some cases for investigation and found that many of the “suicides” and “accidents” were more likely murders.


According to estimates from officials and independent human-rights groups, from 8,000 to 20,000 young men are killed, disabled or driven to suicide in the armed forces of the former Soviet Union every year. Thousands more run AWOL, terrified for their lives. Last year, military figures indicated that the rate of non-combat deaths among soldiers in peacetime surpassed the rate in the United States Army by a third.

Most of the casualties result from the longstanding military tradition of dedovshchina-- “informal relations” between older and younger conscripts. Derived from the nickname dyed , or grandfather, given to second-year soldiers, it is a euphemism for sadistic fraternity-style hazing by the older soldiers and officers, an activity that swiftly degenerates into deadly pranks, mutilation and murder. And with the explosion of nationalistic tensions in recent years, traditional dedovshchina has been compounded by fierce, ethnically inspired hazing.

Western military analysts, shocked by the extremes to which the hazing is carried out, trace this tradition to the nation’s grander times, when the armed forces were considered the paramount instrument of “Soviet socialization.” Scattering boys from one end of the continent to the other, the generals created an artificial society, packing some regiments with as many as three dozen ethnic nationalities. Virtually every male over the age of 18 has endured this rite of passage, and the brutality has always been part of it.

Traditionally the Central Asians took the brunt of the brutality. Lacking technical training and Russian fluency, Asians were consigned to building details in the undesirable stroibat , or construction crews, and were disproportionately the targets of violence and ethnic harassment. Now there appears to be a nationalistic backlash. According to Western military analysts, in the past two years 60 to 80 officers, all Slavs, have been killed by their troops.

Frightened by the prospect of military service, almost a quarter of the country’s 18-year-old boys failed to turn out for the draft during the past year, while hundreds of thousands of soldiers back from Eastern Europe wallowed in squalid encampments, with no prospects of jobs or housing. Since the Soviet state ceased to exist last December, the fate of the former Red Army, now down from 4 million to about 3 million, has hung in the balance from month to month, while Ukraine and other members of the wobbling Commonwealth of Independent States moved to form separate forces.

According to a Western source, problems such as hazing, however urgent, are being given low priority while the army’s general staff is fighting for its own existence. “But meanwhile,” the source says, “the ex-Soviet Defense Ministry is still there; life goes on as it always did.”

Once the glorious Red Army, nationally revered as the symbol of Russia’s resistance to invaders from Napoleon to Hitler, the Soviet military saw its prestige plummet during the late 1980s. As perestroika unveiled the truth about the ignominious war in Afghanistan, mothers like Nekrasova began to petition military and civil offices, seeking the truth about their boys’ mysterious deaths and demanding compensation. They were from all walks of life: peasants from remote villages, factory workers, middle-level bureaucrats. After meeting one another on their separate rounds to the authorities, a group of them formed the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in 1988, and their cause struck at the heart of the Soviet system.

Evoking the agony of the Argentine women of the 1970s, who marched silently with placards picturing their “disappeared” children, the Soviet mothers hoisted poster-sized photographs of their sons in full uniform and did the unthinkable: picketed in front of the huge, forbidding headquarters of the Defense Ministry and glowered at officers on their way to work. From there, to the parliament, and in the shadow of the Kremlin wall, hundreds of grieving mothers staged hunger strikes and demonstrations.

Their plight ignited the interest of the liberalizing national media, which exposed a litany of brutality and decay in the Soviet military. No one expected the tens of thousands of letters that flooded in from all over the Soviet Union, from families begging for help with their sons’ cases. Satellite groups of mothers sprang up in cities across the Soviet Union.

In a country that refused to tolerate grass-roots movements, the mothers’ challenge to the Red Army generals and the Soviet system was formidable. In 1989, the Defense Ministry was compelled to open its first public relations department, and in 1990 President Mikhail S. Gorbachev agreed to establish a presidential commission, composed of government representatives and the mothers. It selected 107 cases from the thousands in the mothers’ files to investigate and bring to trial.

But still, only a few dozen cases have made it to the military prosecutor, according to Nekrasova’s colleague, Zinaida R. Ledneva, who sits in a small office furnished with little more than a manual typewriter and a couple of flimsy plastic telephones. Their group, she says, lacks the resources and the official cooperation necessary to investigate the thousands of cases they have received from families. Feeling deflated after the rush of hope from the failed August coup, Ledneva says of the Russian and ex-Soviet authorities: “I think they try to hamper all our activities despite the ‘democracy’ and still try to hide all the crimes in the army.

“Maybe a new one like Yeltsin tries to do all his best,” she goes on to say, leafing through a stack of photographs of dead soldiers, “but there also remain many of those old nomenklatura officials who are connected with the coup, and they impede the investigation and the disclosure of all these crimes.”

So deep is her distrust of the present authorities that Ledneva says, “We need foreign medical experts and defenders to help us, because we don’t believe in the quality and willingness of the government’s experts to help us.” Referring to the widely used term Mafia to describe the vast network of former state and party officials who still enjoy considerable power, she says: “There are both military and civilians among them. For after 74 years, this Mafia is so deeply rooted that it is very difficult to disclose all the crimes.”

DESPITE ALL THE OBSTACLES, NEKRASOVA SEEMS EMBOLDENED by the challenge. When she is not monitoring autopsies, she is at work in her stark office in a former Soviet government building. Desks, windowsills and shelves are stacked high with more than 16,000 paper-clipped letters from families, letters she has already read. She looks up, over her glasses, from the thick, green register into which she is recording all the cases by hand.

Until six years ago, Nekrasova’s life was stable and predictable. Divorced many years ago, she raised two sons on her own, working for most of her career as a construction engineer. When she first got word of her son Misha’s death, she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side and put her in the hospital for half a year. The disability forced her into early retirement.

“There was a 1 1/2-year gap between Misha’s death and when I could collect my retirement pension,” she says, looking down at her hands. “I sold my rings, my earrings and all the things I’d prepared as future wedding gifts for my sons--two carpets and some crystal. I lived on that money until my pension was officially approved.”

Misha’s picture is propped on a small table next to her chair. The soggy stems of wilted flowers rise out of the plastic wastebasket beside the table, and a fresh bouquet of red, white and pink carnations stands in a glass next to the photo. Glancing down at the picture, she recalls how she used to visit Misha’s grave every other day--almost two hours each way on the trolley and Metro--until her time was overtaken by her work with the other mothers.

When Nekrasova received her son’s coffin, she defied military policy requiring her to bury it sealed and demanded that it be opened. “The military morgue had put makeup on his face to try to cover his bruises,” she says, wincing. The death certificate stated that he had “died of a number of diseases.”

“This is impossible!” Nekrasova exclaims, reaching down to pull her own medical reference book from a desk drawer. “Misha was a 20-year-old boy. His tongue was missing. He had broken vertebrae.” She goes on. “For six years I’ve been wandering around. There’s such a pile of official letters denying the real cause of his death. I tried everything, official institutions, and got trickery from everybody.”

Nekrasova’s trial by fire was typical of the bitter revelations that undermined whatever trust the mothers might have had in the Soviet system. After searching for her son’s military documents, she finally pounded her fist on the table and swore at the unit’s commander, and the records turned up with no indication of her son’s death. “It means they’ve been receiving rations on his behalf in the unit,” she exclaims angrily. “And you know what else I found in our army, in our military system? They sell people’s military documents to criminals who leave prison, to hide their prison record. This is the pattern of what the army does.”

Though conscious of the explosive potential of the material the women have amassed against the military, Nekrasova is heedless of the threats she has received from high-ranking officials.

“Yes, they tried to scare me,” she says, a silver cap flashing among her broad, spreading teeth. “The chief military prosecutor, Alexander F. Katusev, warned me in 1990: ‘Mother,’ he told me, ‘if you don’t stop, you’ll be over there with your son.’ That’s how he talked to me. So after that meeting, I went straight to the psychiatric hospital to be tested. I was prepared for everything,” she says, slapping her pen down on the desk. “I have the document that says I’m mentally sane.”

Then on Nov. 1, 1990, after one of the mothers’ hunger strikes, the supreme threat of the Soviet military came from the president himself. As Nekrasova recalls, “Gorbachev said to us, ‘Mothers, do you know what you’re challenging?’ and we told him, ‘Yes, we know, Mikhail Sergeyevich. It’s the Mafia.’

“But he said, ‘No, mothers. It’s worse than that.’ And that’s why we fight.”

Under the mantle of Gorbachev’s Presidential Commission, the soldiers’ mothers finally got permission from former Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov to conduct inspections at 22 military units. In Naro Fominsk, not far from Moscow, Nekrasova investigated reports of four beatings and 12 deaths in one year. She also browbeat the commanding officer into cleaning up the squalor in the barracks.

“When I came to Naro Fominsk, everyone had dysentery,” she recalls. “The toilets were stopped up. The commander tried to shrug it off, saying something about a problem with the pipes. But I used to work as a construction engineer, and I know where the pipes should be. I told the commander we wouldn’t tolerate it anymore.” She leans toward me, poised defiantly with her left hand propped on her hip. “I came back the next day and found that the commander himself stayed up all night seeing that the toilets got cleaned.”

FROM TIME TO TIME, THE MOTHERS ASSEMBLE FOR A national conference, where they share their fury and marshal their forces to push the military for the compensation they are not entitled to until terms such as suicide are removed from their documents. Last fall in Moscow, hundreds of middle-aged mothers rose to their feet with rallying cries and applause as delegates including Ledneva and Nekrasova addressed the auditorium.

Dozens of women eddy around me, their dark, shapeless clothes and bulky wool leggings evoking a bygone world. I am besieged by gnarled hands thrusting sheaves of documents at me: pictures of their brutalized sons; letters the soldiers wrote from the army, and falsified government certificates. For many of them, the victim was their only child, the person they counted on to support them in their later years.

The crowd parts for a Belarussian woman named Valentina Koristelova, wearing a coarse, brown sweater with a lapel button picturing her late son, Igor. The army had cabled Koristelova saying that Igor went insane and committed suicide on April 2, 1988. He was, in fact, gang-raped and murdered.

“We managed to steal a picture from the military morgue and enlarge it,” she says, pointing to the details on a grainy black-and-white picture. “He has the marks of the hands that held him while he was raped several times; he had hematoma in his rectum.” With a numbness in her voice, she adds, “Later on, he was shot.”

The cascade of nightmares spills into the corridor outside the auditorium. Another wave of mothers envelops a Defense Ministry officer, who gazes off into the distance while the women wait their turn to tell him of their personal tragedies and implore his ministry for help.

But Col. Vladimir Kuzbmenko of the Defense Ministry’s public relations department says that he considers the cases here exceptions. “A mother in her grief would never believe that her son committed a suicide,” he says, half-shrugging. “And maybe some of them even elaborate the image of their son as a martyr with a halo. But I don’t know of any case in which the first cause of death was disproved as a result of an investigation.”

It is this attitude that has compelled many mothers not to give up until they have reversed the military’s bogus “cause of death” and cleared their sons’ names. One such woman is Kirienna Zaitseva, a medical administrator from Ukraine who lost her only son in 1987, while he was stationed in the Central Asian republic of Tadjikistan. Denis was still recuperating from a difficult bout with hepatitis when his commander ordered him on a long-distance run in the sweltering heat, dressed in a special thermal suit. During the run, he collapsed and died.

Zaitseva got her first blast of crude official humor when she took her son’s death certificate to the local Political Commissar to arrange for the burial. “When he read the certificate, he said, ‘He died of overheating. Perhaps he was at the beach,’ ” Zaitseva recalls. “Then he told me, ‘You go home and bring up your other children and wait for your pension.’ ” Determined to press charges against her son’s commander, Zaitseva failed to find an attorney courageous enough to take her case.

“As soon as I mentioned that my son was killed by his senior lieutenant, the lawyers repeatedly said that they would not take up the case--because they would be forced to do what the military wanted.” When at last she and three other mothers succeeded in enlisting the anonymous help of a Moscow attorney, he warned them: “Whenever a military man is at fault, they are like a joint family, concealing everything. So there will be no evidence. You will find no truth.”

Armed with her dossiers, including letters from Denis’ friends in the unit, Zaitseva succeeded in getting her son’s commander convicted. He received a three-year sentence. “But,” she adds, pointing her finger, “he just signed a guarantee that he wouldn’t leave Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for three years, and that was the end of it.”

Outraged by the court’s leniency, Zaitseva and others started a local chapter of the mothers’ movement for army reform. “Somebody must do something in this country,” Zaitseva says. “Because if you don’t fight, those who are in power believe you are just ‘cattle,’ as we say. And if they think you’re cattle, they behave with you as cattle.”

WHEN THE HARASSMENT BECOMES TO MUCH TO bear in the units, thousands of soldiers bolt. Many of them seek help from mothers such as Zaitseva and Nekrasova, who have lobbied for amnesty and reassignment for boys who turn themselves in. Recently, Nekrasova advised two frightened young men named Misha and Leonid, who fled their base about 430 miles southwest of Moscow and were hiding out with Misha’s parents in their shabby, concrete apartment complex. Their story reveals much about how the violence spirals.

“It all started for me at my first unit in Kaluga when one of the older soldiers woke me up at 3 in the morning and ordered me to go into the bathroom,” begins Leonid, a tall, blond athlete. “When I refused to wash his underpants, he beat me in the face. But I fought back, and when the others heard him fall down, 17 people rushed in from the dorm and started beating me. It was lucky I didn’t fall down; otherwise they would have killed me.”

A few days later, Leonid was hospitalized with kidney damage and blood in his urine. He was transferred to another base, where he met Misha, and they discovered that being in the unit’s Slavic minority was more dangerous than the “generational” dedovshchina.

“There were maybe 20 Russians, and 60 others, from Dagestan, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus,” Misha says. “The guys from Dagestan are like kings. They never touch the rags to wash the floor. The Russians are the slaves there.”

When the two refused to take orders from the “kings,” they were hauled off to the stockade, to tiny concrete cells with no heat, no blanket and no place to sleep. There they were submitted to a widely known torture technique condemned by Amnesty International, one in which the victim’s wrists and ankles are drawn up behind the back and bound with a belt; and then he is suspended from a tether. “A third guy sits on your arched back,” Leonid explains, getting up to trace the angle with his hands. “I’m a sportsman and have very good health, and I could only stand it for three minutes.”

For a tense moment the room is silent, and then Leonid mumbles, “There was another thing.” They exchange edgy glances, and he goes on. “Once, while we were being led to the stockade, we saw six of them dragging a soldier toward the latrine. We could hear him screaming until suddenly he stopped--as they shoved his head into the overflowing hole.” His breath quickens as Misha adds: “They did this to boys who refused to clean the toilets on the base for them. We know of 12 guys who went through that. One was from our group.”

As ethnic rivalries erupt in the former Soviet republics, fear of reprisals prevents parents from identifying their sons’ assailants to the Defense Ministry. “No one dares to do it, because we’re afraid of ethnic revenge. Those Armenians or Azerbaijanis may come to our home,” says Misha’s mother, flashing her eyes toward the apartment door. “I don’t feel secure here. They can kill the whole family. If we send someone to prison for hazing, his relatives will come, and we feel defenseless.”

TAKING A CASE TO MILITARY COURT CAN INDEED BE a frightening experience for the grieving parents, who are brought face-to-face with the hostile clan of the soldier accused of murder. Nekrasova and her colleagues navigate bereaved families through the maze of military bureaucracy, collecting the documents for court hearings. As a member of the Presidential Commission, Nekrasova herself attends hearings in her capacity of “public accuser,” a kind of citizen-prosecutor in the court system, where the state still has control over the judge, the prosecution and the defense. So far, only one case has been fully adjudicated, while six others are currently in trial. Seventy-eight cases have either been closed or have brought no word from the general prosecutor’s office.

Nekrasova marches into the dank waiting room, bundled up in her quilted gray coat and clutching a raft of case documents. It has taken her several weeks to help the parents of Sergei Fyedoseev track down witnesses and gather evidence for this Moscow hearing. “I spent three full days at the morgue, poring over these documents,” she says. “They showed a hematoma on the penis, broken ribs, and bruises caused by heavy military boots,” she adds, arching her eyebrows. “The story was that Fyedoseev was ‘forced to commit suicide.’ ”

“It appears he had a conflict with soldiers of Kumyk and Karachayev nationalities,” the victim’s mother says nervously. As the morning drags on, about a dozen swarthy men drift in from the Caucasian mountain villages of the two defendants and huddle at one end of the waiting room, glancing sidelong in her direction.

The opening session ends in less than an hour, adjourned at the defense’s request for more time to locate witnesses. Nerves are cracking on both sides, and Nekrasova believes that the military prosecutor is only stalling to wear them down. Out in the waiting room, several mothers who have come for moral support snap at a young commander, there on behalf of the two accused.

“I came here voluntarily,” the lieutenant retorts, defensively stiffening his shoulders. “I’m not a witness. And I was not in the unit where the suicide occurred.”

This infuriates Nekrasova, who argues nose-to-nose with the commander. “A boy doesn’t commit suicide after receiving a love letter from his girlfriend,” she scolds. “You’re abnormal!” She goes on to criticize the endless obstacles she has had to surmount in order to bring this case to court.

The father of one of the sullen-looking defendants breaks in to challenge Nekrasova’s role in the courtroom. Towering over her in his fluffy fur hat, he bellows, “Either you’re a public accuser, or you have something personal in this,” referring to her son Misha’s death. “Don’t involve your private problems in the case.”

Nekrasova, now livid, seems to grow a foot taller as she cranes her neck in defiance. “This has nothing to do with my son! And I have the right to be here.” Tipping her head toward the boys in the dock, she adds sarcastically, “Would you ask your kid about how he beat up Fyedoseev from the first day of his service?”

The lieutenant is asked to explain the level of uncontrolled violence in the armed forces, and he repeats almost verbatim the explanation advanced by the Defense Ministry’s public relations office. “The same problems within the army are in the society in general.” He sees it as a reflection of the rising crime rate and ethnic conflict.

But an army is different, he concedes, insofar as it is a closed society with a chain of command, which should be capable of maintaining order. One reason for its failure lies in the structure of the ex-Soviet army, which lacks a corps of noncommissioned officers whose job would be to oversee daily chores and barracks discipline. When the lights go out in the barracks here at night, the young conscripts are left at the mercy of the dyeds , or grandpas, the bullying second-year soldiers.

IF MANDATORY MILITARY SERVICE WAS HAILED AS the vehicle for shaping “the Soviet man,” it has indelibly marked hundreds of millions of young men, fresh from home, with a searing introduction to the world of official cruelty and corruption. Often drawing parallels with the dehumanization techniques of the Soviet gulag to break its prisoners, men describe a choreography of humiliation and provocation, aimed at pitting the conscripts against one another and goading them into explosive clashes. One young veteran named Mikhail V. recalled a particularly diabolical tactic of fomenting hatred among the soldiers by selecting a recruit to hand out the long-awaited mail from home and ordering him to tear every letter into pieces as he called out the names.

In a scarred, industrial district of southeastern Moscow, past a putrid moat of raw sewage that gushes from the brick barracks of the army stroibat unit, a dozen second-year soldiers about to be discharged spend a Sunday afternoon in the unheated visitors’ room, discussing their army experiences. Far from being defensive about their manhood, or glib about the hardships they have endured, the boys are intense and preoccupied with themes of trust and respect, immorality and humiliation.

As dusk approaches, the grime of the waiting room is muted by the winter light. Reflecting upon their two grueling years, the soldiers fall hushed as Alexei, a blond, plum-cheeked father of a 1-year-old child, speaks softly. “They have to change the system of ‘informal relations’ between people in the army. It is not just the physical hazing, because we can get used to it and ignore it.” He goes on, “It’s more the psychological pressure, the moral pressure they put on you from the beginning, always trying to humiliate you. They use all kinds of insults, all the time, starting with the young soldiers.” His friends are staring down at their boots. “They use swears that will really humiliate you. No one is prepared for this.”

Western military analysts expect that the violence in the post-Soviet armed forces will gradually diminish, but only as an unintended consequence of the trend begun by the Baltic states to call their boys home to finish their service. The reduced ethnic diversity may reduce frictions within the units, and soldiers drafted to serve at home are likely to be more motivated to defend their regime than they were during the August coup.

Other changes include the closure of a large number of stroibat units, and the phasing out of the Military Prosecutor’s office and handing over of cases to the civil court system. But according to one Western military attache, the civil system also lacks independence from the state, and so far no real improvement in justice has been noted.

Western military analysts also dispel the popular notion that the democratic pressures that brought Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin to power will make the military more democratic, since armies, by definition, are governed by a strict chain of command. Guaranteeing discipline within that chain of command can be achieved, but only after the establishment of a professional army. For in order to attract and retain competent personnel, the armed forces must put an end to the brutality and improve the living standards for officers and soldiers. That, of course, raises the specter of enormous financial outlays, which are not likely, given the present economic crisis.

Reform efforts by the officer corps, which convoked a nationwide meeting last January, have concentrated on improving their own abysmal wages and living conditions. Even the union for military reform known as Shchit , or “Shield,” has only attracted some 40,000 junior officers. One of Shchit’s more radical founders, Col. Vitaly Urazhtsev, blames the lack of reform on the military’s top brass--95% of whom, he says, are stalwarts of the old order. As for introducing new training approaches to eliminate the hazing tradition and discourage ethnic violence, Urazhtsev says, “Impossible! While these old-guard generals are still in power? Impossible!”

A COLD, FINE DRIZZLE FALLS over a sea of gray tombstones, mirrored in the heavy winter sky that presses down over Moscow. Carrying a faded cotton shoulder bag, Elizaveta Nekrasova cautiously inches her way over the icy cement walk, sending scores of crows and pigeons fluttering off in search of another roost. Almost the instant she rounds the corner to the front of her son’s grave, her eyes swell with tears. Gazing at the headstone, she spreads the wide mouth of her bag, pulls out a fraying washrag and begins a well-practiced ritual of wiping the rain and soot from the four-foot-high marble stele. Pausing to whisper a few words, she scans the light-purple chrysanthemums she laid on the grave earlier in the week, then bends deeply to kiss the black soil.

It is nearly freezing, and she rubs her bare hands before placing a small plastic bag containing half a dozen tea cookies into the traditional marble box next to the headstone. Her son’s former military unit is nearby, she says, and the soldiers come and seek sanctuary in the cemetery when they are beaten up by older boys.

“Many times they see me and talk to me here. The dyeds threaten them not to come back unless they have money for cigarettes. Sometimes I’ve given them money.”

At least once a week, Nekrasova makes the journey here by trolley and Metro and spends about a quarter of her 342-ruble pension buying freshly cut flowers. Misha’s grave is the only spot of color among the thousands of run-down plots.

“It’s natural to do it, because what remains for a mother?” she says, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “He was strong, healthy, beautiful. They deliberately exterminate such good ones. According to what the guys themselves tell, the commanders give suggestions, hint at whom to kill. Those who are good in the service and who do not agree with the Mafiosi in the unit, they are not liked. They must be done away with.

“I blame the irresponsible commanders, the system of never taking responsibility,” she says, her voice sharpening. “I think the worst criminals are the medical investigators and the chief prosecutor.”

It is late morning, and Nekrasova is due for another afternoon of hearings on the Fyedoseev case. “This army should be dissolved immediately and a new army created,” she says, making her way back over the icy path. “Maybe now they are talking about a professional army. But before it is created, how many more will be killed?”