April 23, 2024

When Yulia Seleznyova walks around her home city in Russia, she scrutinizes everyone passing by in the hope that she will lock eyes with her son Aleksei.

She last heard from him on New Year’s Eve 2022, when he sent holiday greetings from the school in eastern Ukraine that his unit of recently mobilized soldiers was using as a headquarters

The Ukrainian military hit the school with U.S.-supplied HIMARS rockets on New Year’s Day. Russian authorities acknowledged dozens of deaths, though pro-Russian military bloggers and Ukrainian authorities estimated that the real number was in the hundreds.

Aleksei was not recognized in the official death toll because not a single fragment of his body was identified in the rubble after the strike. Ms. Seleznyova was left with nothing to bury, and, she says, no closure. But it has also left a small shred of hope for a miracle.

“I still go around town sometimes, with my eyes wide open, thinking maybe he’s sitting somewhere, but he doesn’t remember us, but maybe we’re there in his subconscious mind,” Ms. Seleznyova said in an interview late last year in her one-room apartment in Tolyatti, an industrial city on the Volga River that is home to Russia’s largest car manufacturer.

“Sometimes I think maybe he lost his memory and even got married somewhere in Ukraine, but he doesn’t remember us,” she said. “That he’s just shellshocked.”

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