Family of Russian soldier who died in Syria contests suicide
Family and friends of the first Russian serviceman confirmed dead in Syria Wednesday disputed the official explanation of his death by suicide as his tiny village prepared for his funeral.
Serviceman Vadim Kostenko, 19, is the first confirmed Russian death in Syria since Moscow launched its intervention in the war-torn country.
The defence ministry Tuesday said that a Russian serviceman serving as a technical specialist at the Hmeimim airbase in Syria's Latakia province had committed suicide due to problems with his girlfriend.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the main military prosecutor's office said the first autopsy results showed the cause of death as "suicide by hanging while off duty due to problematic personal circumstances outside the base."
But family and friends said they would never believe the young soldier had taken his own life.
At the family home in Grechanaya Balka, some 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) south of Moscow, the soldier's mother was too distraught to comment so it fell upon his 14-year-old sister to brief the media.
"His body arrived last night. We saw his nose and jaw were broken, he had marks on his neck," Yekaterina Kostenko told AFP inside the family home.
"This was not a suicide," said Kostenko, a blue-eyed girl with freckles and a long brown braid.
Some two dozen mourners gathered outside the family's brick house located at 102 Soviet Street, some bringing large wreaths and bouquets.
A childhood friend broke down, crying and shaking, hugged by an older woman in a headscarf, as dogs barked outside.
At least 20 soldiers wearing green camouflage and winter hats, stood a few steps away from the home.
"No one believes the suicide story. He couldn't have killed himself for a girl. He wasn't one of those suicidal kids," said Svetlana Shpag, 42, a former colleague of Kostenko's mother.
"The only reason he could have killed himself is if someone was about to take his life."
At the local cemetery, an AFP correspondent saw a fresh hole dug, apparently to bury the soldier.
On September 30, Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria, saying it was aiming at Islamic State militants.
Russian warplanes have carried out sorties from the Hmeimim airbase and Russian servicemen are based there to help service the aircraft, among other tasks.
Russia says its ground troops are not taking part in combat operations in Syria and there have been no official reports of any servicemen dying in fighting in the war-torn country.
© 2015 AFP