ISTANBUL, July 29 (Reuters) – A week after Moscow’s war in Ukraine began, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a gesture of solidarity with his soldiers at the front: injured men could claim compensation of three million rubles , or about $50,000 or the amount an average Russian worker would earn in four years.
“It is our duty to support the families of our fallen and injured war comrades,” Putin said when he announced it in early March.
But with the increase in the number of wounded soldiers, some of them find that Putin’s gesture is not as generous as it initially seemed. Reuters found that some injured soldiers – including those with significant injuries – are struggling to get compensation, based on interviews with four injured Russian servicemen, a relative of an injured soldier, two people involved in advocacy groups representing soldiers and a lawyer.
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For some, it’s because a little-noticed clarification of the rules narrowed the eligibility criteria; others face bureaucratic hurdles or delays in approving applications.
Maxim Grebenyuk, a lawyer who heads a Moscow-based advocacy organization called Military Ombudsman which provides legal advice to military personnel in conflict with their employer, said he has received hundreds of requests for help from military personnel injured in the search for payments. “There is a certain social tension between the military” towards the authorities in relation to these payments, he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry, Health Ministry and Kremlin did not respond to questions from Reuters for this story, including on the payment system and the number of soldiers injured or killed. In April, Putin said the Russian state must guarantee the “implementation of all our commitments for the well-being of military personnel, especially those who have been injured.”
Five months after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the conflict is weighing heavily on the Russian military as well as its economy due to international sanctions, according to Ukraine and its Western allies. The United States estimated that potentially 45,000 Russian troops were wounded and about 15,000 killed, which would equal the Soviet death toll during the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989.
Three of the soldiers Reuters spoke to also described heavy casualties suffered by their units. One, who said he was a platoon commander, said half of his 200-strong unit had been killed or injured over a two-month period. A soldier in his 20s said his battalion initially numbered 700 men, but by June only around 100 were still fit for combat, with the rest dead, wounded or refusing to fight. Reuters was unable to independently verify the accounts.
Russia, which says it is carrying out a special military operation in Ukraine, has not released figures since March 25, when the Defense Ministry said there were 1,351 killed and 3,825 injured. Ukraine also suffered a high number of casualties; Kyiv said in June that 100 to 200 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed daily.
Hospitals are also experiencing shortages. Some injured Russian servicemen are arriving at hospitals without enough beds, doctors or equipment to treat them properly, according to two of the soldiers and an official involved in Moscow’s military operations.
Putin announced the payments on March 3 during a meeting of his security council broadcast on national television. Two days later, he issued a decree setting the allowances, commonly referred to by soldiers as “presidential payments”.
The decree stated that anyone who suffered a “concussion, injury, dismemberment” while serving in the Russian security forces in Ukraine would receive the three million rubles.
Seven weeks later, on April 22, the Ministry of Defense released details of the implementation of the payment which were posted on its website, including stating that to be eligible, the injuries had to be among those described on an official list.
Sergei Krivenko, head of an advocacy group called “Citizen. Army. Rights.” which helps soldiers fight court cases, said he believed the move was driven by rising costs. “Three million is such a big sum, after all. And it turned out there were too many people” who were eligible, he said. The Kremlin and the Ministry of Defense did not respond to questions about the reason for the rule change.
One Russian soldier surprised by the change was the one in his 20s who described his battalion’s casualties. He said he was a gunner in an anti-tank unit and had served in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting. Like other soldiers who spoke to Reuters, he asked to remain anonymous because he feared punishment for speaking to the media.
The soldier, from southern Russia, said he and his unit were on the front line in early June when a mortar landed nearby and shrapnel hit him in the leg. In the military hospital in Rostov, he received an official diagnosis: shrapnel injury to the soft tissues of the right leg with muscle damage.
At another military hospital where he later underwent wound surgery, a surgeon first told the soldier he would be entitled to the so-called presidential payout, but later changed his mind, according to the shooter. He said the doctor told him that the list of eligible injuries mentioned in the April 22 document included muscle rupture, but the diagnosis only cited muscle damage.
“I was upset, of course,” the serviceman said, adding that since April 22, getting payment had “gotten complicated.” He said he had since obtained a second opinion which confirmed a diagnosis of muscle rupture with the help of an attorney, whom he did not name.
The soldier asked his unit chief for payment of three million rubles, according to a copy of the July request he shared with Reuters. At the end of July, he said he received the payment.
Staff at the hospital where the soldier said he had surgery did not respond to calls made by Reuters. Rostov Military Hospital did not respond to a request for comment on accounts he and another soldier gave to Reuters about their medical treatment.
Two other soldiers say they, too, were told by doctors that their injuries did not meet specific eligibility criteria.
One such soldier, in his 40s from central Russia, said he was serving with a motorized rifle battalion in the Luhansk region when shrapnel from a landmine lodged in his arm. The soldier said he was sent to the same military hospital in Rostov and placed in the ear, nose and throat ward because it was the only place with free beds. “There’s no space, they put you where they can,” he said.
While being treated in hospital, doctors told him that the so-called presidential payout was only paid to people with damaged or broken bones or those who had suffered more serious injuries. He was told his injury involved “soft tissue only”, he said.
He said he nevertheless requested payment and did not receive an official response.
Reuters confirmed he had served in the Luhansk region and reviewed copies of his medical records, which confirm his name and the nature of the injury.
The other soldier, from Russia’s North Caucasus region, was shot in the thigh while serving in Ukraine in April, according to a document issued by doctors at a military hospital in the same region. where he comes from. The document, shared with Reuters by a relative, shows that doctors said his injuries were not on the list mentioned by the Ministry of Defense on April 22.
The relative said the soldier could appeal the doctors’ decision so he could seek the presidential payment. The hospital did not respond to a request for comment.
Another soldier, the platoon commander in his mid-40s from central Russia, said he decided not to seek payment.
He suffered a concussion when his unit was attacked in the Lugansk region, but delayed seeking medical attention because he did not want to abandon his men, many of whom were new to combat, according to the commander. Once he sought treatment at a hospital in eastern Ukraine, he said, another patient who was a colonel told him he would no longer be eligible for payment due to the new criteria. The list mentioned by the Ministry of Defense on April 22 indicated that a concussion would only be eligible if it was confirmed by doctors within three days of its occurrence.
Reuters independently verified the identity of the platoon commander and that he serves in the Russian forces, but was unable to corroborate his account of his injuries or treatment.
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Some soldiers were not explicitly informed that they were not eligible for the payment, but still have difficulty obtaining the compensation.
Another man, who said he was a Moscow infantryman in his early 20s, told Reuters that in early April he was near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv when a mortar landed near him, overturning a truck he was unloading and breaking. toes on his foot.
He says he asked in April for the payment of three million rubles and, having received no response, also wrote to the military prosecutor asking for an explanation. Reuters saw some of his medical notes and a July letter from the military prosecutor’s office saying he had contacted the soldier’s unit chief to ask that the matter be looked into.
The military prosecutor’s office did not respond to questions about the delays and, if any, the reason for them. A law relating to the compensation of injured soldiers stipulates that a correctly submitted request must receive a response within 15 days.
The soldier said he still had problems with his foot and had applied to his unit commanders to leave military service. He said: “They asked me the question: will you come back? And I said no.
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Editing by Christian Lowe and Cassell Bryan-Low
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