Europe

Russian TV lauds 'volunteers' fighting in Ukraine

Screengrab from Russian Rossiya 1 TV showing photo of Anatoly Travkin Image copyright Rossiya TV
Image caption Anatoly Travkin's funeral was covered by the Rossiya 1 TV channel

Russian state television channels have for the first time reported on the funerals of Russian troops who fought alongside pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The broadcasts repeated the official line that the troops are "volunteers" or travelled to Ukraine on leave rather than in any official capacity. Western leaders accuse the Kremlin of sending regular army units into Ukraine.

The three main channels - Rossiya, Channel One and NTV - ran reports on the funeral of one such "volunteer", Anatoly Travkin, in the city of Kostroma northeast of Moscow.

'Preventing atrocities'

The reports were full of patriotic rhetoric about Slavonic unity and Russian brotherhood.

Mr Travkin was a "volunteer who could not idly observe events in Ukraine", said NTV, which reported that he had just got married six weeks earlier.

His only relative to speak on air, an aunt, was also on-message: "He wanted to serve his motherland. He gave his life for all of us".

NTV interviewed army veterans at the funeral, one of whom expressed pride that his "regimental comrades are carrying out the duty of any Russian person honourably, to prevent the atrocities now taking place in Donetsk and Luhansk regions".

Russians rely overwhelmingly on the state TV channels for news.

'International duty'

Rossiya TV interviewed Russian army veterans who said that fighting for the separatists was a matter of "internationalist duty", echoing the rhetoric of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and even the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

"As long as there is a Russian world, we will stand up for it," said a veteran of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, jabbing his finger at his television audience. "These lads did their duty, their international duty, their fraternal duty, and they should have eternal glory."

Image copyright Rossiya TV
Image caption TV channels showed Anatoly Travkin being honoured with a salute

Another volunteer, apparently still fighting in Ukraine, spoke of "not letting fascism pass" - a popular slogan of Spanish Republican forces in the 1930s.

Rossiya said up to 4,000 Russians were fighting for the Donetsk and Luhansk militias, and its correspondent interviewed a wounded volunteer in Moscow who had gone to Ukraine "because he realised that otherwise he could not consider himself a man".

'Amazing spiritual impulse'

The volunteers are "united by a heightened sense of justice and historical truth", the correspondent continued, and animated by an "amazing spiritual impulse".

"They speak of their own wounds reluctantly, of their comrades' feats with admiration, and of the Ukrainian punishment units' atrocities with contempt."

Rossiya contrasted the Russian volunteers with foreign fighters on the Ukrainian side, whom it dismissed as "mercenaries". One Russian volunteer from the city of Rostov said he had disarmed a bayonet-wielding American in hand-to-hand combat.

'Heroes'

On Friday the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, spoke at the funeral of Andrei Stenin, a Russian news agency photographer killed while covering the fighting in Ukraine.

She said "more and more Russian volunteers are joining the ranks of those fighting for their rights, for justice, and for peace in the land of our fraternal nation", and dubbed them "heroes" in a live report on LifeNews TV.

Ms Matviyenko made what appears to be one of the first acknowledgements by such a senior figure that "volunteers" are dying alongside the separatists in Ukraine.

In Kostroma some relatives of paratroopers have been trying to get news of their whereabouts, fearing that they have been sent to Ukraine.

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