- Vladimir Putin met with bereaved soldiers’ mothers in what has been accused of being a staged meeting.
- Putin told the women he ‘shared their pain’ amid growing anger over the deaths of mobilized troops.
- Activists defending relatives of dead soldiers said they were not invited to the event.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has met the mothers of fallen soldiers in Ukraine in what activists say was a meeting organized to calm public anger over the deaths of mobilized troops.
During Friday’s televised event ahead of the country’s Mother’s Day, Putin told a select group of bereaved mothers that he and the country’s leaders “share your pain”, according to The Guardian.
Since Putin announced the partial mobilization of reservists in September, there have been reports of numerous frontline deaths after being sent out with insufficient training and poor equipment. Troops also complained on social media about substandard living conditions.
Activists previously told the Guardian that Putin’s meeting with bereaved mothers would likely be a carefully orchestrated publicity stunt, with participants pre-selected to avoid friction.
The Guardian identified several women who attended the event and said none had criticized the war in Ukraine. Some were known to be pro-Kremlin.
Olga Tsukanova, a leader of the Council of Mothers and Wives, a grassroots organization of relatives of Russian soldiers, said Putin had not invited any of its members.
The organization strongly criticized the mobilization and called on the government to respond to its concerns.
“Are you a man or what? Do you have the courage to look us in the eye, not with handpicked wives and mothers in your pocket, but with real women who have traveled from different cities here to meet you?” she says in the video, according to The Moscow Times.
Valentina Melnikova, an activist who founded the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia in 1989, also told the Guardian she was not invited to the meeting.
Addressing women, the Russian president urged them not to trust media reports.
“It is clear that life is more complicated and diverse than what is shown on television screens or even on the Internet – you can’t trust anything there, there are a lot of all kinds of fakes, deceptions, lies,” Putin told the women’s group, according to The Guardian.
“That’s why we got together with you. That’s why I proposed this meeting because I wanted to hear from you firsthand.”
Putin’s decision to hold the meeting suggests a realization of the need to assuage public anger and improve perceptions of the war in the country.
The decision to recruit reservists was met with days of protests and made the war personal for many ordinary Russians.