While living in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, Aygul Lyon avoided traveling to Moscow. The capital, famous for its shiny onion domes on Saint Basil’s Cathedral and subway stations adorned with marble arches, was mostly known to Lyon as the city where bands of Russian skinheads targeted anyone who didn’t look Slavic.
Even after she moved to Los Angeles about 13 years ago, Lyon, a native of the Muslim republic Bashkortostan near the Ural Mountains with a population of about 4 million, continued to hear stories of other Bashkirs who were facing oppressive nationalism in Russia.
When this spring she learned that two of her distant relatives were among soldiers sent to fight in Ukraine, she was stunned. When she later learned that many soldiers killed on the battlefield were mostly from ethnic minority groups like her own, she was outraged.
“It’s silent genocide against my people,” Lyon said in Russian. “They are going to Ukraine to die a meaningless death because someone is trying to get his hands on an independent country.”
As the war on Ukraine enters its eighth month, more and more coffins of dead soldiers are returning to Russia. News reports and early data collected by pro-democracy independent groups show that many soldiers who died in Ukraine came from remote and often poor regions of Russia. And with the latest partial mobilization announced by the Kremlin earlier this week, the largest conscription drive since World War II, experts say the new wave of mobilization is going to impact minorities from the Eastern part of Russia and so-called ethnic republics.
Like other members of Russian ethnic minority groups, Lyon strives to understand why Bashkirs are sent to die in Ukraine when they face discrimination in their native Russia.
Aygul Lyon works on a puzzle with her daughter Miriam Lyon, 9. Lyon left Bashkortostan, Russia, 13 years ago for Los Angeles. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
The Kremlin has not disclosed estimates of the full impact of its losses in Ukraine, a war that Moscow has called a special military operation. In March, shortly after Putin’s February invasion, Russian officials said that nearly 1,850 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine. While wartime death estimates are hardly accurate and hard to confirm, the Pentagon recently reported that 80,000 Russians have been injured or killed since the start of the war.
Early figures collected by independent news outlet MediaZona which works in collaboration with BBC News Russia, estimated that most of the killed in action comes from ethnic republics, with Buryatia and Dagestan leading the way.
“Most reports about soldier deaths are coming from the poorer regions: the average wage there is lower than the Russian median wage. Moscow and Saint Petersburg, representing over 12% of the country’s population, are almost never mentioned in those reports,” according to MediaZona.
The news about the high toll of death among soldiers from poorer republics sparked outrage in some parts of Russia and abroad. Critics say the Kremlin uses soldiers from impoverished republics for its imperialist goals.
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Source:: Los Angeles Daily News
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