The Russian army is using the air fleet of President Vladimir Putin to transport the bodies of dead soldiers who were killed in the war in Ukraine, according to a report.
The presidential air fleet, consisting of 68 jets and helicopters for the Kremlin, is being operated by Rossiya Airlines, a subsidiary of the state-owned Aeroflot Group. One of the jets, specifically a Tu-134a-3 airliner with the tail number RA-65911, was filmed by state media in the central Russian republic of Tatarstan, returning the body of a dead soldier in March last year.
In 2016, local newspapers reported that Putin had visited a neighboring Russian region using a plane with the same tail number.
Flight tracking tools used by The Moscow Times’ Russian service found that several of the Rossiya aircraft had also crossed to and from Russian regions between January and early February of this year.
The outlet noted that often after the flights’ arrival in Russian regions, local news would report the funeral of a soldier who died in the war in Ukraine.
In one of the cases cited by the outlet, a Rossiya jet with tail number RA-61720 landed in the city of Yekaterinburg on Jan. 23. Reports of a Russian serviceman and a mercenary for the infamous Wagner Group being buried in the city surfaced within the next 24 hours.
The plane with RA-61720 number was registered to fly to Ufa in the neighboring republic of Bashkortostan on Jan. 13. It was the same day Putin arrived in the city to attend the funeral ceremony for Bashkortostan’s first president Murtaz Rakhimov.
It is not clear where the bodies of dead soldiers are picked up by Rossiya aircraft. However, a relative of one of the slain soldiers who spoke to the outlet said the corpses were transported from a military hospital in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, located less than 100 kilometers from eastern Ukraine.
“While I was there, I saw six large coroner vans that reeked of rot and corpses,” the relative told the outlet. “I saw them being unloaded, entire cars of corpses, zinc [coffins] on top of zinc [coffins]. It was a frightening picture for me, even though I work in intensive care and I’ve seen corpses. But I’ve never seen so many before.”
Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February last year, a total of 143,680 military personnel have been killed, including 820 soldiers who were killed over the past day, as per estimates from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.