Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday told a group of mothers whose sons are fighting in Ukraine that he shares the pain of those who have lost family members in the conflict.
The meeting took place ahead of Mother’s Day, which Russia celebrates on Sunday, amid growing anger from families of Russian soldiers after a chaotic military draft.
“I want you to know: I personally and the entire leadership of the country share this pain,” Putin told the ladies at his residence near Moscow.
“We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a boy, a child,” he said in his opening remarks, which lasted a few minutes.
He said, “I don’t dare say any official formal matters related to expressing condolences.”
He added that some news reports about Moscow’s attack in Ukraine could not be trusted.
“There is a lot of fake news, hoaxes and lies,” he said.
Putin, who introduced legislation banning virtually any public criticism of the attack in Ukraine, told women they should be careful what they read online.
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“Obviously, life is much more complicated than what is shown on our TV screens or even on the Internet, and nothing out there can be trusted,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the rest of the discussion would emerge “depending on the conversation.”
Putin’s first meeting
State television broadcast pictures of the Russian president sitting at a table with 17 mothers, in the first such meeting since Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.
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“I fully understand that for you, and for many other women in Russia whose sons are currently in combat zones, this will not be a time for celebration,” said the 70-year-old, referring to Mother’s Day.
Videos of Russian mothers and relatives worried about men fighting in Ukraine have been circulating on Russian social media in recent months.