This week, 19-year-old Vadim Kostenko became the first Russian soldier to die in Syria almost a month into Moscow's bombing campaign there. But the Russian army's official suicide ruling is looking less and less accurate.
Russian officials say Kostenko hanged himself due to issues in his personal life while serving on a support staff on a Russian air force base in the Syrian regime's coastal stronghold region.
The young soldier's body was shipped back to his home village in southern Russia, where a funeral service was held for him this week. There, family and friends contested the circumstances surrounding his alleged suicide.
A man said to be Kostenko's uncle told Novaya Gazeta newspaper his nephew had "a broken jaw ... the back of his head... bashed in. And his neck ... broken." The newspaper also said the serviceman's nose had been broken, Reuters reported.
In a report Wednesday, Reuters quoted unnamed Russian defense ministry sources, who claimed Kostenko was found by fellow soldiers on the Syrian base and that it was obvious he had ended his own life. The sources also said his phone had ten unreturned phone calls, purportedly to his girlfriend.
The Russian officials' reigning theory was that Kostenko killed himself over problems with his girlfriend. But even before Wednesday's Reuters report, a conversation on social media was casting doubt on this narrative.
Russian soldier's girlfriend denies reports he commited suicide in Syria due to falling out with her https://t.co/ZiisNb3dW1— Руслан Левиев (@RuslanLeviev) October 27, 2015
A timeline of screenshots was shared on a page run by media activist Ruslan Leviev on the social blogging site Live Journal. Leviev has used Live Journal and other sites to carry out citizen journalist investigations into mainstream media reports. His work has shown up elsewhere in Syria as well as in comments on the war in Ukraine—this week, he's turning his sights on the soldier's death.
Leviev collected screenshots showing words of mourning from Kostenko's family and friends, including one coversation with his girlfriend, Tatiana Suprun. Suprun claimed reports of their falling out were wholly false.
Meanwhile, another friend Lieviev's Live Journal claims to have spoken to says Russian military authorities arrived at Kostenko's parents home with news of his death on Oct. 23. The unnamed female says the military unit told the soldier's parents first that "he was hanged, then that he was hanged and shot, andfinally that he was found dead."
Questions surrounding Kostenko's death mark the first in Syria, but doubt has been cast on a Russian casualty reports before. Critics of the Kremlin have in the past accused authorities of hiding casualty details of soldiers fighting abroad, especially in the war in Ukraine.
You can read the full Live Journal post here.
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