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Soldier Commits Suicide Because of Hazing

Women do their best to save their sons from military service

The tragedy took place on the night of August 10. The woman was able to tell her story only in September. Her son Nikolay Lyubimov was like a ray of light for her - he was all she had. Nikolay was fond of boxing, music and modern dance, he was very good at drawing. The young man did not try to dodge military service. He believed that every man must fulfil his duty

Nikolay had served in the military only for nine months. He spent two of them serving on the Burny destroyer. The telegram about Nikolay's death arrived early in the morning. Another telegram arrived 30 minutes later - it was signed by Nikolay's commander. As the mother found out later, Nikolay had committed suicide because of the home-sickness and the breakup with his girlfriend.

Like any other serviceman, Nikolay was often writing letters to his mother. When Nadezhda re-readed his letters to her, she realized that he was changing. At first the young man was very happy to be in the service. But then it became obvious that he was doing his best to conceal his anguish. This is what Nikolay Lyubimov wrote from Russky Island: "We have a very friendly atmosphere here. The island is like paradise. We go on excursions on Sunday, we even go to the movies. There is no hazing here at all - they dismiss people from the unit for it and move them to other units. They always check if everyone has warm socks and handkerchiefs." Most likely, it was the true description of situation. Nadezhda sometimes called her son and understood from the tone of his voice that he was doing absolutely fine.

However, the character of the letters changed in July: "Hello mum. So I am permanently serving on the Burny destroyer now. It is such a dirty place - soldiers wear horrible uniforms, the ship is a total mess. I think I will become a dinosaur here. Anyway, I think everything will be just fine. Say hello to everyone."

Nadezhda knew that her son was a strong person, she knew that he dreamed to be a sailor, to continue the family tradition. There were no problems with Nikolay's girlfriend either: she was faithfully waiting for him from the service. The last letter from Nikolay arrived on August 12th, after the horrible telegram. Nikolay wrote: "It is impossible to serve here - everybody is trying to do his best to survive. It is hard for me to write about such things, I am so fed up with them. You wrote in your letter that you were proud of me, but if you saw me here on board this horrible boat, I would disappoint you so much."

The letter that Nikolay wrote to his friends was even worse. It was all filled with foul language. It was hard for Nadezhda to believe that it had been actually written by her 19-year-old boy: "It is Navy Day today, everybody drank themselves into a stupor. Several guys have already cut their wrists, another one has drowned himself. I was told not to write tearful letters because they might jail me. Please help, I want to return home healthy."

They did not have time to help Nikolay. His mother could not believe that her son had committed suicide. She asked to open the casket, but they did not allow her at first - the woman had no official permission to do this. Nadezhda opened the casket anyway. Her friend, a doctor, saw that Nikolay's lip had been split.

Nadezhda decided to have an atopsy conducted of son's body, but military officials told her that she would need a permission from Moscow. Later on, she received a decree from the local Office of the Military Prosecutor. The document ran: "During the period of June 20th - August 10th of 2003, senior sailors Prizhimov and Kim were hazing junior sailors Ilin, Saaya and Lyubimov. In the event that junior military men did not obey orders, Prizhimov and Kim beat them. As a result of the regular hazing and beating, soldier Lyubimov committed suicide on August 10th 2003."

At first we wanted to conduct our own investigation. Most likely, it would not bring any results: other soldiers have been intimidated and they would not share information out of fear for their own lives. Then we talked to Valentina Derevova - chairwoman of the public organization of military men's parents in Russia's Far East. Valentina told us about the conference of soldiers' mothers recently held in the city of Vladivostok. The conference was all about the military hazing. However, the documentary filmed by television crew from Khabarovsk produced the brightest impression during the conference. The short film was about a young man named Alexander Shevchuk. His commanders sold Alexander into slavery, to work for a small businessman. Alexander had to work in a stable, care for horses. He could see his officers once a month when they visited the the businessman to collect payment for the serviceman (2,000 rubles a month). Furthermore, the chief of medical services in the town of Krasnorechensk sold service men who were undergoing medical treatment in the hospital.

"The most unpleasant thing here", Valentina Derevova said, "is the fact that the authorities conceal instances of hazing, although they are charged to prevent it. Furthermore, at times they do not mind using servicemen as free labor for their own personal needs."

One may not say that all army officers humiliate and insult their soldiers. Living in the port town, we know that there are man servicemen who value the military duty and honor. Nikolay Lyubimov wrote very good uplifting letters from Russky Island. In addition, as Valentina Derevova said, the "army is sick because society is sick." There are many other reasons as well. "As a rule, lonely women raise tender and fragile sons deprived of masculine qualities. Such young men cannot stand up for themselves, they are capricious, not sporty, they are not ready to lead independent lives, because their mothers did everything for them. They do not like such men in the army."

One may find many reasons to explain the mess reigning in the Russian military. However, it will not help Russian women who lose their sons during peaceful times. A journalist from Nikolay's town wrote: "Could such things have happen 20 years ago? Two caskets have arrived from the Russian Navy in the Nizhni Novgorod region in one day. Our friend Nikolay Lyubimov was resting in peace in one of them."

It is worth mentioning here that professional psychologists used to work in the Russian army, later this position was abolished. Soldiers have no one to talk to and ask for help, they are forced to deal with the peer pressure. Two years of the military service is the most difficult time for a Russian young man. There used to be a saying: "You serve in the army and you become a man." Now people say: "If he goes there, will he ever come back? If he comes back, what kind of a person will he be?"

No country can exist without armed forces. Men must fulfil their military duty. However, their mothers must also be certain that their sons will return home, barring a war of course. Yet, people do not believe the Russian army at present. Women do not want to give away their sons, and they do their best to protect them.

Galina Kushnareva
Vladivostok