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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

At A Hinterland Cemetery, Russians Mourn Their Sons And Stand By Putin

This is the other side of the Kremlin's "special operation" in Ukraine. The human cost of the Russian side remains unclear. The reportage takes place in the capital of one of the poorest regions of Russia, in the heart of the Caucasus, where a growing number of soldiers are buried.

photo of snow on graves in Vladikavkaz, Russia

The cemetery in Vladikavkaz, Russia.

Benjamin Quénelle

VLADIKAVKAZ — Throughout Russia, military cemeteries continue to fill up and expand. Looking at the dates on the graves, one begins to gauge the scope of the Kremlin's so-called special military operation in Ukraine.

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"We will win this war," says Taïmouzar, 65. "It will be long. But we will make it all the way." .

At the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, Vladikavkaz is one of the poorest regions of Russia — a fertile ground for recruiters looking for volunteers to fight in Ukraine.

Looking at the grave of his son David, 21, the grieving father speaks with certainty: "He didn't want to fight this war," Taïmouzar says. "But he was right to go and fight there. A year ago, the Ukrainians were preparing to attack us. Russia had to defend itself."

David died in combat on April 27, 2022. At the other end of the cemetery, one finds a more recent gravestone: Feb. 2, 2023.

Mourning and memory​

Through mud and melting snow, a woman walks between two graves. Her frail silhouette passes more than 100 temporary headstones arranged in neat rows, their numbers growing regularly. Dressed in black, she kneels, cries and caresses a photo showing her husband with a fixed smile. Atsamaz, 32.

"You were the best of all," reads a note hung by a relative on the portrait.

These cemeteries are the other side of the "special operation."

Like the other graves, buried under flags and flowers, there are candles, bottles of water, toys, candy boxes and other mementos left by the deceased's children. In silence, mothers, wives and sisters take turns, flanked by children with disbelieving eyes.

Freshly dug graves in the cemetery in Vladikavkaz, Russia, in March 2022.

Oleg Marzoev/VK

Taboo topic

These cemeteries are the other side of the "special operation," whose human cost, spread amongst Russia's armed services, militia and conscripts, remains unclear. In Vladikavkaz, they are all members of the military.

"My son had just finished his service, and joined the army under contract right away. A month and a half later, he went to the front," says Taïmouzar.

He goes to the cemetery every day, sometimes three times a day. David was his youngest son — brought home in a coffin by his older brother, 23, who is also serving at the front.

Both were students: one in electricity, the other in construction. "Good sons. But their duty was to go," says Taïmouzar. "David received a posthumous medal. Russia knows how to reward its heroes."

Interviews arranged in advance with mothers and wives are cancelled.

In Vladikavkaz, no other family would speak with Les Echos. Interviews had been arranged in advance, but one after the other, mothers and wives have cancelled. "They are afraid, especially to speak to a foreign journalist," a resident says. "Even if they support the war, any fact recounted about their loved ones can be misinterpreted and fall under the new laws on military fakes and discrediting the army."

This city is home base of the 58th Russian Army, whose barracks sit next to the cemetery. Without industry, the region lives on subsidies from Moscow, under constant pressure from the Putin regime. The region is governed by former military officer, Sergey Menyaylo, a loyal Kremlin soldier and former deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet, who went to the front himself to encourage volunteers from his region.

Questioning the war here, even publicly mourning its victims, is simply taboo.

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Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGO — TikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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