Global in Ukraine Exclusive: Interview with the family of the Russian soldier killed in Ukraine – National | Globalnews.ca

On the morning of April 29, Galena Pankina answered the phone at her home in Baklashi, a town in central Russia, and was told that her son had died in Ukraine.

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Danil Pankin was a reconnaissance officer in a Russian Army motorized rifle battalion that was sent to President Vladimir Putin’s disastrous invasion.

He did not even reach his 20th birthday when a Ukrainian tank ended his life. He was posthumously awarded the Russian Order of Valor.

“He proposed to his girlfriend before he left for Ukraine,” Galena said. “Our family was going to grow even more.”

“But he never made it home.”

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Neither have thousands of other Russian soldiers, although Moscow has strictly suppressed reports of their wartime losses since the invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24.

Numbers range from Russia’s acknowledged loss of just over 1,000 to Ukraine’s equally unverifiable tally of 35,000. In April, the UK estimated 15,000 dead.

The remaining bodies are collected by J9, a group of Ukrainian military and civilian volunteers. They are identified for their return to Russia.

Documents found by J9 members and obtained by Global News identify some of them, including Pyotr Yegorchev, 25, who was born in the Orenburg region.

J9 member, in Vilkhivka, Ukraine, May 19, 2022.

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A Russian social media profile matching details of documents found on his body indicates that he attended the Baltic State Technical University.

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He studied weapons and weapon systems. Photos of him show him posing with friends and hugging a young woman.

His remains were discovered in the Kharkiv region.

A Global News analysis of the nearly 3,600 fallen soldiers who have been publicly identified shows that the majority are from the poorest and most ethnically diverse regions of Russia.

That includes central Siberia and the northern Caucasus. By comparison, only a small number come from more prosperous cities.

Nearly 200 were from Dagestan, the corrupt Muslim-majority republic that is among the poorest parts of Russia.

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Other poor republics suffered almost as many losses: 159 from Buryatia and 129 from Chechnya. Only 29 came from Moscow and 15 from Saint Petersburg.

In the economically stagnant regions of Russia, a temporary military contract offers stable employment, housing and salaries well above the national average.

Russian disinformation also makes the military look attractive. The Pankins said they got most of their news from state-controlled television and considered the military a prestigious job.

“He did not die in vain,” Galena said, blaming NATO and the United States for provoking Russia. “He died fighting for peace.”

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left at the orphanage

Danil was five years old when his biological parents abandoned him in an orphanage in 2008 and he joined the Pankin family.

Galina Pankina, on the right.

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Galena was a midwife, Alexey – a metallurgist in a factory. In all, they had 13 children, nine of them foster children that they fostered.

Danil “was very thin and frail,” she recalled. He couldn’t sit still and he was always on the move: riding his bike, playing tennis or breakdancing. He wrote poetry and was a bit of a comedian.

“Even when he did something bad and you wanted to punish him, he would just joke around and snort. You forgot why you were mad at him,” Alexey said.

All the men of the Pankin family served in the army like Alexey, who suggested to Danil that he think about it, that it would be interesting and that he could get an apartment.

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“He wasn’t sure at first. But then he called us and said he signed up,” he said.

Danil Pankin joined the Russian Army last year.

family brochure

They supported his decision, but were against his choice to become a sniper, arguing that he would not be able to live with himself. Instead, he went into a reconnaissance unit.

He was stationed in the eastern city of Khabarovsk until Putin sent his army to take over Ukraine, sparking Europe’s worst conflict and refugee crisis since World War II.

Located near Kyiv, Danil called home and his mother asked him how he was dealing with the war.

“He always said, ‘Mom, I’m trying to add humor to everything,’” Galena said. “Overall, he was a really fun person.”

Danil Pankin.

family brochure

Russian forces committed dozens of atrocities around the Ukrainian capital, executing civilians in towns like Bucha. Eventually, however, the Ukrainian troops forced them to withdraw and limit their objectives.

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On March 31, Danil left Ukraine and returned to Belarus. He told his mother that he was thinking of leaving the army.

But less than two weeks later, as Russian forces repositioned themselves in eastern Ukraine, he announced that he would rejoin the invasion.

“I asked him why he’s coming back and he told me that half of his guys are there. That’s it,” Alexey said.

“He could have left but he said I can’t, my teammates are there,” his mother said.

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On April 11, he made a video call to his parents while crossing the border in a BTR armored vehicle.

Ten days later, he was dead.

His unit was in the Kharkiv region. They were retreating to a town called Zavodi. Danil stayed behind to cover them, but a tank fired at his position and he was hit in the head.

“They managed to leave, and he didn’t,” his father said.

A street in your name

When he received the phone call from the army announcing his death, Galena said thank you and hung up.

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“And only when I started to tell my husband everything, I understood what happened. I didn’t realize it at first.”

Galina Pankina and Alexey Pankin at their home in Baklashi, Russia.

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Later, military officials arrived in person, and she asked if it could be a mistake. “I mean, anything could happen,” she said. But it was not like that.

The memorial ceremony was held in a park in Baklashi. Danil was buried alongside other war veterans.

“Many people came. His whole college class, all his teachers,” his father said.

His girlfriend came from Rostov. She wanted to see him but the morgue wouldn’t let her. His injuries were too serious.

Three comrades from the army appeared. They cried at his grave and came to the house and stayed so long that they almost missed their flight back to Khabarovsk.

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“They said he hated his machine gun, because it was so big and sometimes he would just throw it away, start cursing, but then he would calm down and go back and pick it up,” his mother said.

Later, the town administration called and said that a street would be named after Danil. The announcement was posted on a local online forum.

“And one man commented: ‘Why would we call a street with someone so young? He hasn’t done anything yet.’ It was the first time I got so angry and felt so hurt for our guys,” Alexey said.

“And I wrote to him: ‘You live under a peaceful sky thanks to our guys. Are you okay with that?’ And after that, people started commenting and then apologized.”

“Many people, unfortunately, do not understand the reasons for this special operation,” he said. “Why is this happening and how did it start? And because they don’t understand, many are angry.”

Danil Pankin in military uniform.

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The death of his son has not changed his vision of the war, a vision that coincides with the disinformation and falsehoods that Russia uses to justify its invasion.

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“Who would stop those people if not our guys? And I wouldn’t call them people, those monsters, who would stop them? Only U.S. The things they’re doing, the atrocities they’re committing in the modern world in modern warfare. They are animals, and animals like that should be destroyed or they would spread everywhere.”

Visitors stop at Danil’s grave and leave offerings. A child’s drawing of a tank, sweets, alcohol. Since his death, Galina has noticed more birds around.

“You know, when he was buried, there were photos and in them there were always cranes somewhere in the sky,” Galina said.

“And then at home, I started seeing a lot of cranes. My husband and I started to see a lot of birds in general. More than usual. Birds that would fly but never leave.

“Just a few days ago we saw two seagulls. And the day we saw Irina off at the airport, we saw many cranes in the sky.”

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