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The call Russian mothers dread: Why the phrase 'Cargo 200' leaves relatives of soldiers fighting in Ukraine distraught

Thousands of Russians are thought to have been killed as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has a growing toll.

The General Staff of Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Monday night there had been 5,700 casualties among Russian forces after five days of fighting.

Sky News Moscow correspondent Diana Magnay says those fatalities are slowly becoming apparent to the Russian people. She writes:

Yesterday, as our Sky News producer was in a bank wrestling with what to do about the plummeting rouble, the man next door to her took a call.


She heard the words “Cargo 200”; the person at the other end of the line was distraught.

Ukraine invasion latest – ‘Ukraine-Russia news live: 5,700 Russian troops killed in war so far’

Cargo 200 is the military identifier for transportation of dead bodies from the battlefield.

It sunk into the national consciousness during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when thousands of Soviet troops returned home in zinc coffins.

It would seem, from that overheard exchange in a crowded Russian bank, that a family relative was coming back from Ukraine in one of them.

Those Soviet troops in Afghanistan were Ukrainian too. These nations are incredibly close, the spirit of their people is fraternal.

Ukraine has set up a website and telegram channel called – in reference to Cargo 200 – so Russian families can track down and identify their sons.

Read more on Ukraine invasion:
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Yuriy Zastavny says his team manufactures Molotov cocktails instead of beer as and whne they are required.

Of course, it fits with Ukraine’s information campaign that they are winning over the Russians but it also hits home, for those in Russia who can access the site via VPN.

It makes for incredibly grim scrolling – dead corpses, unidentified, many unidentifiable; Russians in Ukrainian captivity, saying who they are and where they come from. As soldiers of course are, so many of them are so, so young.

The Committee of Soldier’s Mothers which was set up during Russia’s war in Chechnya in 1989 is also trying to help families of troops sent to Ukraine, many of whom did not seem to know till the last moment that they would be sent in to fight.

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A Russian military convoy lies destroyed in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

The Mothers were banned from working with soldiers directly under new restrictions imposed on NGOs like theirs last October, but there is a loophole whereby they can assist families. We’ll see how long that lasts for.

Russia is already facing a grim reckoning economically for what their President has done, and it will only get worse.

The country’s central bank was on Monday forced to hike a key interest rate to 20% after the rouble slumped to a record low

“I think this is a strong signal to the Russian people that something is going wrong,” economist Konstantin Sonin told me in reference to the rouble’s collapse.

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“They might not know from state TV that there are casualties or that there is a huge war where the Russian army is invading in Ukraine but they know now that the economy is in deep trouble.”

When the zinc coffins start to return, they will start to feel the human cost too. The government will no doubt try to hide it, as they did the COVID death toll.

But Mr Sonin doesn’t think they’ll manage.

“I think people will recognise what has happened,” he added. “This is a huge thing for most people, it will become the most important event in their lifetime.”


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