Families of missing sailors seek answers about warship as Russia denies attack

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Black Sea Port; Sevastopol, Russia, Moskva
The Russian missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet is seen anchored in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol

The families of Russian servicemen are desperately searching for their sons who they said served on the Moska warship prior to its sinking.

It took the Russian military more than a week to acknowledge that one serviceman died and 27 dozen others were missing after the ship – one of its flagship cruisers – sank in the Black Sea, reportedly the result of a Ukrainian missiles strike.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said in its announcement on Friday the ship had been damaged by a fire, with 396 crew members evacuated. The ministry did not offer any explanation for its earlier claims that the full crew got off the vessel before it sank.

The loss of the Moskva, one of three missile cruisers of its kind in Russia’s fleet, was shrouded in mystery from the moment it was first reported early on April 14. Ukraine said it hit the ship with missiles. The Russian Defence Ministry would not acknowledge an attack, saying only that a fire broke out on the vessel after ammunition detonated, causing serious damage.

Moscow even insisted that the ship remained afloat and was being towed to a port, only to admit hours later that it sank after all — in a storm. No images of the ship or of the supposed rescue operation were made available.

Only several days later, the Russian military released a short and mostly silent video showing rows of sailors, supposedly from the Moskva, reporting to their command in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The footage offered little clarity on how many sailors were actually evacuated to safety.

Soon came the questions. An emotional social media post by Dmitry Shkrebets alleging his son, a conscript who served as a cook on Moskva, was missing, quickly went viral.

The military “said the entire crew was evacuated. It’s a lie! A blatant and cynical lie!” Mr Shkrebets, a resident of Crimea, wrote on VK, a popular Russian social media platform, on April 17, three days after the ship went down.

“My son, a conscript, as the very commanders of the Moskva cruiser told me, is not listed among the wounded and the dead and is added to the list of those missing … Guys, missing in the open sea?!”

Similar posts quickly followed from other parts of Russia. The Associated Press found social media posts looking for at least 13 other young men who reportedly served on the Moskva whose families could not find them.

Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov says the sinking of the Moskva is a major political blow for Vladimir Putin, not so much because of the outcry from families but because it hurts the Russian president’s image of military might.

“This trait, might, is under attack now because we’re now talking about the devastation of the fleet,” Mr Gallyamov said. But, he added, the families’ woes underscore “that one shouldn’t trust the Russian authorities”.

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