The bitter conflict in Ukraine has cost thousands of lives, but the Russian government has continuously denied sending its soldiers to the frontlines, despite accusations to the contrary from NATO and Western officials.
Since August 2014, a small but steady stream of coffins began arriving in villages across Russia, containing the maimed bodies of soldiers killed in "unknown circumstances." Some would be buried hastily at night or in secret funerals, their graves zealously guarded from prying outsiders. Journalists investigating the deaths have reported being threatened with intimidation and attacks.
In cases that the Kremlin could not so easily ignore, the dead or injured have been hailed as "volunteers" who entered Ukraine on leave from the army — heroes who fought unofficially for the freedom of their Russian-speaking brethren.
In a new three-part series, VICE News travels to Russia to investigate the mysterious deaths of dozens — possibly hundreds — of active-duty Russian servicemen who are believed to have been killed in Ukraine. Accounts gathered from soldiers' families, human rights workers, and government officials cast doubt on the Kremlin narrative, revealing the unacknowledged sacrifices borne by Russia's ghost army.