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Putin tells mothers of soldiers fighting in Ukraine he ‘shares’ their pain

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As anger over the protracted invasion of Russia simmers, President Vladimir Putin on Friday held his first public meeting of the nine-month war with mothers of soldiers who had fought in Ukraine, a move likely designed to quell discontent.

In a clip broadcast by Russian state media, Putin can be seen sitting with a group of women around a table decorated with ornate teacups and fresh berries for conversation to coincide with Russian Mother’s Day.

“I want you to know that I personally, the entire leadership of the country, share your pain,” Putin said, pausing and clearing his throat. “We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a son, a child, especially the mother, to whom we all owe birth.”

“I want you to know that we share this pain with you and, of course, we will do everything we can not to make you feel forgotten,” Putin added.

Angry families say Russian conscripts were thrown to the front lines unprepared

The meeting comes as the grievances of ordinary Russians, especially those recently mobilized to replenish the depleted ranks, are beginning to enter the public space, despite the dire legal ramifications for those critical of the war.

In recent months, dozens of videos recorded by soldiers or their relatives have surfaced online, condemning the recent mobilization and the appalling conditions in which some soldiers find themselves on the front lines, with low morale, poor equipment and a lack of clear strategy on the battlefield.

The soldiers said they had been abandoned by commanders and forced to wander through the forest without food or reinforcements. Some contract soldiers called up earlier in the campaign as part of the regular forces complained that they were exhausted and had not been exchanged for months.

The mobilization effort, which officially lasted about a month and a half, reportedly saw 318,000 reinforcements thrown into battle as Russia tries to hold out against a bipartisan Ukrainian counter-offensive ahead of the cold winter that will further complicate the battle.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon’s top general, Army General Mark A. Milley, said more than 100,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded since the February 24 invasion. Tens of thousands of men have left the country to avoid being drafted. Russia’s Defense Ministry officially claimed it had lost about 6,000 soldiers in September this year and has not updated the numbers since.

Men of fighting age in Russia are still hiding for fear of being sent to war

Even before Friday’s rally, Russian activists questioned whether the Kremlin would allow a candid conversation with exasperated mothers and wives whose loved ones are missing or dead.

Groups such as the Council of Mothers and Wives, which has pleaded with officials to end the mobilization and return the men to their homes, and the veterans’ advocacy organization the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, which processes thousands of complaints from soldiers and their families, were not invited. The Kremlin only published parts of the meeting and there was no live broadcast.

“We are not interested in this at all,” said Valentina Melnikova, the secretary of the Soldier Mothers of Russia, when asked if her group would have sent a representative if the Kremlin had extended the invitation.

“It’s crazy that the conversation is still not public even with the mothers who have been allowed to see Putin,” the Council of Mothers and Wives said in the group’s Telegram blog. “Are they worried that some moms are still blurting something out?”

Indeed, the composition of those present suggested that the rally was orchestrated to avoid outbursts of public anger in Putin’s presence, as women in the room were mostly officials of pro-government movements, middle-ranking officials and members of the ruling United Russia party that had been founded . by Putin himself.

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