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InterNations
Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories
Important Stories (Важные Истории) - is an association of independent Russian-language journalists created in 2020 focused on reportage, investigative reporting and data research.
Important Things: A Rare Unfiltered Look Inside Russian Schools
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories

Important Things: A Rare Unfiltered Look Inside Russian Schools

In Russian schools, lessons on "important things" are a compulsory hour pushing state propaganda. But not everyone is buying it. Independent Russian media outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories spoke to teachers, parents and students about how they see patriotism and Putin's mobilization.

MOSCOW — On March 1, schools found themselves on the ideological front line of the Russian-Ukrainian war. At the end of May, teachers were told they would have to lead classes with students called "Lessons about important things." The topic was "patriotism and civic education."

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At the beginning of November, we learned about the revival of an elementary military training course for senior classes. In the teaching materials sent to the teachers, it was stated that a "special peacekeeping operation was going on, the purpose of which was to restrain the nationalists who oppress the Russian-speaking population."

Independent Russian media outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories asked several teachers, students and parents about their experiences with the school's attempt to instill patriotism and Russia's partial mobilization of citizens.

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Photo of a group of ​prisoners walking inside a penal colony in Mozzhukha, Russia
Russia
Yulya Krasnikova

The Prigozhin Method: Inside Wagner Group's Russian Prison Recruitment

An inmate of the penal colony in the town of Kopeysk reveals the different ways convicts are recruited in the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, whose founder and Putin confidante Yevgeny Prigozhin personally sought the most violent criminals with vows to pay big sums and expunge their sentences.

The Wagner Group, also known as Wagner PMC, is a private military force with close links to Vladimir Putin. Officially, they do not exist. Their presence in Ukraine made headlines and caused concern as UN investigators and rights groups have accused the group of targeting civilians and conducting mass executions.

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The group first emerged in 2014, reportedly financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and associate of Putin. Videos emerged online of Prigozhin recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine in exchange for shortened sentences. Just last week a new video emerged of the execution of the Russian prisoner Evgeny Nuzhin who had joined Wagner and later surrendered to the Ukrainian army and testified against the Russians. The video in question shows Wagner recruits executing Nuzhin by smashing in his head with a sledgehammer.

Independent exiled Russian news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii was the first to report on the recruitment of convicts to the Wagner PMC in July from the St. Petersburg area, which has since expanded to penal colonies in the Ural, Siberia, the Far East, and even the Arctic Circle.

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photo of a gate opening to a light blue mansion
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Ekaterina Fomina

Kremlin Kids, Inc: How The Children Of Russia's Elite Keep Busy Avoiding The War

The offspring of Russia's elite were used to luxury loft apartments, expensive cars and carefree living. So how did Putin's mobilization for new troops impact them? As independent Russian news platform Vazhnyye Istorii found out, life essentially continues as normal.

There's a famous quote about war by the late Russian General Alexander Lebed that is universally true: “Let me recruit a platoon of the children of the elite, and the war will be over in a day.”

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Vazhnyye Istorii, as one of the few remaining independent Russian news platforms, decided to investigate what the offspring of the Russian elite thought about Russia's "partial mobilization" that was announced in late September, and whether any of them had been called up.

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Photo of a pedestrian crossing the street during blackout
Geopolitics
Maria Zholobova

Kyiv Blackout Siege: Russian Strikes On Power Grid Are A War Crime In The Making

Russia takes away light, water, and heat from Ukrainians with their missile strikes against the nation's energy infrastructure. It is a very intentional strategy of cruelty.

KYIV — The Russian Defense Ministry reported in matter-of-fact terms on the strikes with "high-precision weapons" "against military command facilities and energy systems. Russian TV channels and propagandists on the Telegram social network explain that these attacks have military significance: Ukrainians "will not be able to deliver either ammunition or fuel, and then the Ukrainian army will turn into a crowd of armed men with nothing but pieces of iron."

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But in fact, the touted new tactics and military precision adds up to Russia striking Ukrainian civilians.

Gennady Ryabtsev, a member of the expert council at Ukraine's Agency on Energy Efficiency, lives in the area of the thermal power plant. "There was shelling: one "shahed" [an Iranian drone] crashed into a residential building across from this plant, another flew into the yard of a business center, police hit the third, a fourth fell on the roof of the administrative building of Ukrenergo, the call center there went out of order, and a fifth fell somewhere in the yard of this thermal power plant," Ryabtsev recounted. "That is the destruction of energy facilities by high-precision weapons."

Those missiles and drones that hit power plants and power lines are aimed to hit civilians: both hospitals and schools in Kyiv are now without heat and light work.

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Chechen Pride Or Kremlin Ambitions? Tracking Kadyrov's Long Game
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Cameron Manley

Chechen Pride Or Kremlin Ambitions? Tracking Kadyrov's Long Game

Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, is one of the most recognizable (and hawkish) figures in the orbit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But beyond his online bluster, he is keeping his options open as Moscow loses ground in the war in Ukraine.

-Analysis-

In a war where most Russian military commanders choose to remain in the shadows, and regular soldiers are prohibited from using their phones, one man stands out from the rest: Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya.

The day Russian President Vladimir Putin declared his "special military operation," it’s hard to forget the 12,000 "volunteer" soldiers amassed in the central square in the regional capital, Grozny, as Kadyrov hailed the start of the invasion and pledged to send a wave of Chechen volunteers into Ukraine.

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Eight months ago, at the moment of the highest stakes for Putin, it was a clear sign that the once rebellious Muslim-majority republic could be counted on in Moscow.

Ukraine's military intelligence tracks the origins of the Russian forces who've invaded their country — those from the Chechen Republic are referred to as "Kadyrovtsy."

But while the 46-year-old leader's flexing continue, the last two months of Ukrainian gains on the battlefield — and Moscow's increasingly brutal response and ominous threats — have altered the equation.

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Photo of a Russian Army reservist​ in western Russia
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Ekaterina Fomina

One Russian Mother's Plea To Putin To Find Her Soldier Son

Thousands of Russian mothers exchange messages every day online in desperate bids to find their missing sons serving in the Russian army. This is the story of one such mother who has been looking for her son for seven months.

Irina Chistyakova lives in Petrozavodsk, Russia, a city about 300 kilometers northeast of St. Petersburg. Her 20-year-old son Kirill was called up on the eve of the war, signing the enrollment contract without his mother knowing.

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The last time he called her was on March 22 from a basement in Malaya Rogan, a village near Kharkiv, as his unit was getting ready to retreat.

Since then, Chistyakova has looked through hundreds of photos of corpses, and in several cases identified the sons of people she knew. But not her own. Kirill is neither on the lists of the dead, nor on the register of missing people.

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Belarus To Kazakhstan: Russia's Weakness Is A Powder Keg In Ex-Soviet Lands
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Vladimir Solovyov

Belarus To Kazakhstan: Russia's Weakness Is A Powder Keg In Ex-Soviet Lands

Russia has always claimed to be a kind of sheriff on the territory of the former USSR, a zone the country considers as its "privileged interests." Now it has lost both strength and authority in the war with Ukraine.

Since the collapse of the USSR, thirty years ago, the post-Soviet regions regularly brought bad news to the world. This included everything from regional conflicts and civil wars to ethnic clashes and military coups. But until recently, this never had merged into one continuous stream.

In 2020 we began to see how the instability and simmering conflicts could converge and take a bloody turn: Hostilities resumed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Belarus bubbling, with popular protests against strongman Alexander Lukashenko, border skirmishes turned deadly between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; another coup d'état took place in Kyrgyzstan in October.

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Fast-forward to today: We are seeing how Russia's war with Ukraine has worsened the region's security.

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Photo of the sun setting through the smoke caused by the the fire on the bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia following an explosion on Oct. 8
Ideas
Cameron Manley

Was The Crimea Bridge Explosion A Suicide Attack? Why The Question Matters

We may never know the exact cause of the explosion that damaged the strategic Kerch bridge. But it is quite plausible that it was carried out by a Ukrainian suicide bomber. Yes, it’s come this far — and for a very simple reason.

-Analysis-

As cold-blooded as it was, Russia’s barrage of missile attacks aimed at civilian targets across Ukraine was no surprise. But as indiscriminate as the revenge killings were, it cannot erase the single strike that happened two days earlier: the precision targeting of the Kerch bridge, linking Crimea to mainland Russia, a well-orchestrated blow with both major symbolic and strategic consequences.

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The bridge had been both a source of enormous pride for Russian President Vladimir Putin ever since it opened in 2018, and an important logistical component to transport supplies to Russian troops. And of course, the attack came the day after Putin’s birthday.

Thus, for the Russian President, revenge was in order — and in terms of a human toll, he made sure it would be grossly disproportionate, with the sole objective to terrorize the Ukrainian nation.

Comparing the two attacks, there is little mystery about how Russia carried out its response: firing more than 80 missiles at civilian targets and basic infrastructure in Kyiv and other major cities around Ukraine.

Instead, the details behind Saturday’s bridge attack are unknown (and largely unknowable) — but it is a story all its own that may help to shed further light on the difference between how Ukraine and Russia see the war.

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