A thousand miles from Moscow, on a wooden bench in the yard of her parents’ house, Oksana shares memories of her brother Konstantin.
She shows me the medal he’d been awarded for military service in the North Caucasus; some of his army photos, too, including a portrait on a military pendant.
“This is the image we’re going to use on his gravestone,” Oksana explains.
Three weeks before Konstantin Kuzmin was killed, he was sitting in this yard enjoying a summer holiday.
“He got a telephone call. He said it was from the commander of his army unit, who told him there was going to be an inspection and that everyone had to be back on base,” Oksana recalls.
“He left on 23 July. Three days later my brother called to say he was on the move again. It sounded as if he was frightened of something. ‘I’m off to the south west! South-west Ukraine!’ he said. I thought, perhaps, he meant the border area … ” she added.
“On 8 August we spoke again on the phone. But he was in a rush. He said to our parents ‘Mama, Papa, I love you. Hi to everyone! Kiss my daughter for me…’ Then, when he went to the border, or wherever it was he went, he told us not to call him. He would call us.”
Konstantin was a “kontraktnik”, a professional soldier.
Where and how he was killed remains a mystery.
Oksana continued: “On 17 August the military commissar came to my parents and told them my brother had been killed.”
“He said a shell fired from Ukrainian territory had landed on Konstantin’s vehicle. That’s all we knew, until the coffin arrived. The official said my brother had been killed in military exercises on the border with Ukraine,” she said.
“Do you believe the words you are telling me?” Oksana asked the official.
“No,” he replied.
“So why are you saying this?” Oksana inquired.
“They tell us that there is no war, that our soldiers are not involved,” says Oksana now. “So who is responsible for his death? It is the only question which tortures me.”