Ella Polyakova on Russian military personnel in Ukraine

posted 2 Mar 2015, 05:53 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Mar 2015, 06:00 ]
25 February 2015

By Vera Vasilyeva

Source: HRO.org
Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg has become aware of cases where Russian soldiers have been sent to Ukraine after being forced to sign a contract to serve in the army. Their families are too scared to risk taking direct action on behalf of their children by giving their full names to human rights activists.

Ella Polyakova, leader of Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg and member of the President’s Advisory Council on Human Rights, revealed this phenomenon during a speech on "The Army and Human Rights” at the Sakharov Centre on 24 February 2015.

Her speech focused in particular on contract servicemen at military unit No 10544 in the Murmansk region (the unit’s command staff deny any such events).

Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg received regular reports to this effect last summer, with a fresh wave arriving in December/January.

According to Ella Polyakova, soldiers are subject to psychological coercion, and some of them “crack”. A certain number conclude contracts out of desperation and a belief that it is their only hope of earning money, since many young army soldiers are from socially disadvantaged and poor families.

At the same time, soldiers are generally unable to make proper use of legal defence, because they are unaware of these mechanisms and of their rights. The fact is that no one can be forced to sign a contract.

Soldiers sent to the border with Ukraine are entirely cut off from the outside world.

Ella Polyakova lent particular emphasis to a new and very worrying phenomenon – the “use of unbridled propaganda to influence public opinion”.

She stated that Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg raised the alarm back in August after people had been unable to contact family members who were allegedly on training exercises. At the start of September, the Ministry of Defence launched the “Call Mum” campaign, which involved soldiers being given SIM cards and told to call home – which they did under the watchful eye of their commanders, assuring their mothers that they were not in Ukraine and asking them not to make any fuss.

Ella Polyakova believes that our society is trapped by fear, to such an extent that mothers whose sons return from “training exercises” as “Cargo 200” [dead] are mollified by compensation of 5 million roubles, and content to keep quiet about the details of what has happened.

Ever since 1991, the NGO Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg has worked to defend the legal rights both of citizens conscripted to service in the armed forces or assigned to “alternative” civilian service and of soldiers and their families. As well as providing them with legal and other assistance and support, it uses reports submitted by the public to monitor infringements of rights and legal interests in order to produce analytical documents which can be forwarded to the relevant state authorities with jurisdiction in that area.

The Sakharov Centre is currently working to provide all interested parties with an insight into the reality of life in Russia from the point of view of human rights activists, historians and civil activists, as well as an insight into the specific challenges and serious problems related to the observance of human rights, both in our country and beyond its borders.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds