A glimpse into Russia’s shadowy ground war in Syria has emerged after as many as 300 private military contractors were reported killed or wounded in a U.S. airstrike last month.
But the deaths are a virtual state secret. Officially, there's been little word from the Kremlin, leaving the families of these men in the dark.
"We don't know the truth. We can't even hope to find it out," said Nadezhda Kosoturova, whose ex-husband Igor was allegedly killed while fighting as a private military contractor in Syria. After two weeks of silence, Igor's body was returned with the simple explanation that he had died for the motherland.
Some of the military contractors fighting in Syria originate from the town of Asbest in central Russia, where job prospects are limited and patriotism can easily be used to motivate local men to fight for Russia as military contractors.
These private military contractors are all part of a systematic effort by the Kremlin to downplay its role in the bloody ground war. But as casualties mount, the families of these Russian soldiers are begining to ask for answers.
This segment originally aired March 27, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.