According to The Associated Press, the last time Valeria Sokolova saw her husband, the 25-year-old paratrooper told her that he and his fellow soldiers were heading for military exercises in southern Russia, near the Ukrainian border.
"He was vague in a way that was very unusual, and it was hard for all of them to say goodbye," Valeria Sokolova told The Associated Press.
On Monday (August 25), ten men from his division were captured in eastern Ukraine amid fighting between pro-Moscow separatists and Ukrainian troops. At least two others from the division were killed and an unspecified number were wounded.
Sokolova, the mother of a 6-year-old boy, does not know the fate of her husband, and she said Russian military officials have released no information about the servicemen.
The government has released little information about those killed while fighting with the rebels--a policy that some have compared to one used during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s. This secrecy may become more difficult to maintain if the death toll rises.
"Only through each other did we find out the number of killed, wounded," she told the AP by telephone from Kostroma, a city 350 kilometers (210 miles) north of Moscow.
The news added to the growing evidence that Russia--despite its denials--is sending troops and weapons to fight alongside the separatists.
On Thursday (August 28), Ukraine accused Russia of sending tanks, armored vehicles and troops onto its soil. NATO said at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine and released what it said were satellite photos of Russian artillery units moving in last week.
The request to look into the deaths came from the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, a highly respected non-governmental organization with a long history of working to defend the rights of soldiers. Within days, however, the commission's letter appeared to have been removed from its website.
In the northwestern region of Pskov, home of a major airborne division, the deaths of two paratroopers appear to have been suppressed. The names of the dead have been removed from fresh graves in a cemetery visited by local journalists, who were threatened or chased away by thugs. Relatives of dead or missing paratroopers reportedly have been warned not to talk to the media.
COMMENT: "This is the same old Soviet behavior," said Valentina Melnikova, the Moscow-based director of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers.
"It reminds me of the secret burials of Russian soldiers during the first half of the Afghan war," she said, referring to 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. "When they sent bodies back, they didn't give any information about where they had died and didn't allow people to write on his tombstone that he was a soldier."
Melnikova also said that in previous conflicts, such as the early stages of the war against separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s, many soldiers who were killed or captured on Chechen soil were listed on army rosters as having been on leave.
In recent days, Melnikova said she has received multiple reports from divisions where soldiers have been intimidated into signing up as contract troops and then whisked across the border.
Sokolova, the wife of the missing Kostroma paratrooper, was at home Tuesday (August 26) when another soldier's wife called with the news that the ten men in their husbands' division had been captured by Ukrainian troops.
Ukraine's security services posted video of the Russians online. One soldier, who holds up his dog tag for the camera, says their commander sent them on a 70-kilometer (40-mile) march without warning them that they would be entering Ukraine.
The soldiers were brought to Kiev and jailed on charges of participating in terrorist activity and crossing the border illegally.
Sokolova and other military wives gathered at the local garrison Wednesday morning (August 27) to demand information about their husbands' whereabouts.
The wives and other relatives turned for help to the local branch of the Committee of Soldier's Mothers. Lyudmila Khokhlova, the group's Kostroma representative, said in a telephone interview that she was told by an official at the base that two men in the division had been killed and others wounded. She said she was denied further information, including the number of wounded and how many soldiers from the base had been sent into Ukraine.
Despite the outcry among the wives and mothers of the Kostroma soldiers, there has been no response from the Defense Ministry, and the case has been all but ignored on state television, where most Russians get their news.
"I don't think in the broad public realm this will become a reported fact. But it is becoming a problem for Putin, because not every widow will agree to keep secret her loved one's death, no matter how lavish the compensation."